Mother Nature's Poisonous Plants - My Family Travels

What to watch out for in the wilderness and how to cope if your child brushes up against a poisonous ivy, oak, sumac or other dangerous plant.

Emily had just discovered the joys of running through the grass, chasing butterflies and smelling fragrant flowers. But when she began putting buttercups into her mouth, her carefree outdoor romp turned worrisome. Fortunately, eating the plants and flowers found in most gardens does not pose a significant health problem.

Ingesting Common Plants

However, many plants, including azaleas, English and Japanese Yew, wild berries, pokeweed and Lily of the Valley can cause vomiting, and others, like pepper bushes, can make a child’s mouth burn. Household plants pose more of a risk than outdoor plants because children are exposed to them for longer periods of time.

If your child has ingested a plant and you are concerned, call your local poison control center immediately. If you can identify the plant, toxicologists will be in a better position to treat the problem and tell you what to expect. It is always a good idea to keep a bottle of activated charcoal handy because it binds up the toxins in your body. Ipecac syrup can also treat poison ingestion, but it induces vomiting, which can be upsetting to small children. Guardians should never administer either of these agents without first speaking to a poison center or physician.

Poison Ivy, Oak and Sumac

Parents should help children steer clear of these plants because they contain the toxic oil urushiol, which will stick to virtually anything, including gardening tools, clothes and balls that get tossed around the yard. Keep in mind that urushiol turns black when it’s exposed to air, so stay away from all plants with black spots which may be toxic to touch.

Lotions that can be applied on the skin to prevent poison ivy, oak or sumac are sold over the counter. If you think your child has been exposed to any of these toxic plants, wash the area with soap and water immediately, especially under the fingernails, which can still carry small amounts of urushiol and spread the rash. Also, wash your child’s clothes immediately. It takes roughly 24 hours for blisters to appear on the skin in a linear pattern. At that point there isn’t much you can do except treat the itchy rash with an astringent like Burrows solution, baking soda, an oatmeal or cornstarch bath, Calamine lotion or 1% hydrocortisone cream. Severe reactions are treated with prescription oral steroids, and may warrant several visits to the doctor.

If a rash develops on you child’s face, and the eyelids and mouth start to swell, or if your child’s genitals have been affected, be sure to contact a physician.

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