It's a Jungle out There: Dangers in Your Garden

When it comes to your backyard, it's a jungle out there.

The backyard is a hot spot for summertime fun, but it's also teeming with potential health hazards — poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac are the most frequent cause of allergic reactions, striking as many as 10 million Americans each year.

And because of global warning, the danger is on the rise. Katie Brown, author of "Katie Brown's Outdoor Entertaining," separates fact from fiction to help you keep your family safe this summer.

Leaves of Three, Let Them Be: Poison Ivy, Poison Oak Poison Sumac

IDENTIFY: The middle leaf on poison ivy and poison oak is taller than the other two. Poison sumac actually has seven green leaves.

Poison Ivy: consists of three pointed leaflets; the middle leaf is longer. They are reddish for most of the year, turning green in the summer. Small greenish flowers and poisonous berrylike drupes can also appear on poison ivy.

Poison Oak: leaves are divided into three leaflets; the leaflets and white berrylike fruits are somewhat hairy. In different parts of the country, poison oak can also be shrubby and can climb up to eight feet high. Both contain nearly the same substances as poison ivy.

Poison Sumac: found mostly in wet areas, such as swamp edges and wet woods. It has seven to nine leaves per stem. It looks like a small tree or large shrub with large attractive leaves and white fruit. It is larger and less common than poison oak and ivy.

BEWARE: For all three, it's the oil inside the leaves that causes the allergic reaction — a reaction that is different for everyone. Generally speaking, it will start out as a little bump and grow bigger and very itchy.

PROTECT: The rash is not contagious. It spreads only if the urushiol oil — the sticky resinlike substance that causes the rash — remains on your hands. Be careful: Urushiol oil stays active on any surface, including dead plants, for up to five years.

However, if you're standing near a forest fire or lawn mower — anything that can cause it to become airborne and land on your skin, the oil can be a danger that you want to avoid.

IMMUNITY: There is no such thing as immunity as far as poison ivy and poison oak are concerned. It is possible that there may be periods during your life when you might not be as susceptible, but that doesn't mean you can't get it.

TREATMENT: Within an hour of touching the plant you should rinse with lots of cold water — like from a garden hose. Hot water will open your pores and let the oil in. Wash your skin with alcohol or bleach — it may help to remove the oil. The next day will be too late. Check with your doctor to see whether early treatment can prevent the rash before it starts.

A rash can last from a week to three weeks. Prescription remedies, such as prednisone steroid shots from your doctor, can help it clear up much faster.

Or, if you prefer natural remedies, mix 1 tsp. of water with 3 tsp. of one of the following dry ingredients: cornstarch, baking soda, oatmeal or Epsom salts. Make a paste and apply over the affected skin.

For cooling relief, apply aloe vera juice, tofu or watermelon rind over the itchy area — they soothe and dry poison ivy immediately.

CALL POISON CONTROL OR 911: If your child gets into trouble in the garden, the first thing to do is call 911 or Poison Control (1-800-222-1222). You can also give them milk or a milk product, which can soothe the reactions to some of these plants.