Poison ivy threat in winter, too

Published On: Dec 13 2013 05:35:34 PM EST
Updated On: Dec 13 2013 06:18:51 PM EST

Most people only worry about poison ivy in the summer, byt experts say it can be just as dangerous in the winter.

Think all the poison ivy disappeared along with your shorts and flip flops? Think again.

Doctors say you can get poison ivy in the winter, and if it's lurking on your wood pile or yard brush, accidentally tossing it on the fire could send your entire family to the hospital.

The "Leaves of three, let it be" rule won't help you in the winter. According to experts, the most commonly spotted poison ivy plants during the winter are hairy-looking vines attached to trees. Even though the plants don't have leaves in the winter, the oil that causes that itchy rash is still active in the vines and the rest of the plant.

The biggest risk isn't from touching the plant -- it's from burning it.

Todd Taylor learned that lesson the hard way, after burning some brush on his property to tidy things up for the holidays.

"We started raking up pine straw, and we threw the pine straw onto the fire," said Taylor.

Todd kept a close eye on the fire, inhaling some of the smoke. The next day, his eyelids turned blood red.

"I start throwing up, I have chills, I'm running fever."

Taylor thought it might be a virus, until painful, itchy rashes started popping up all over his body.

"Okay, I know this is poison ivy. I've been down this road before, but my eyes are still kind of reddish," said Taylor.

He decided to go to see a doctor. The diagnosis? Systemic poison ivy.

"Systemic poison ivy is an extreme allergic reaction to the oils from the poison ivy plant," said Dr. Bridget Loehn, an ear, nose, and throat specialist.

It wasn't touching the poison ivy plant that sickened Taylor. It was breathing in the oils of the plant as it burned, traveling from the lungs to the blood stream.

Taylor was actually lucky. Inhaling or being exposed to the smoke from burning poison ivy can cause a severe reaction in the nasal passages, lungs, and throat. It can even be fatal.

"Symptoms of nausea, vomiting, fever, they can have swollen lymph nodes and even develop respiratory difficulties," said Loehn.

Fortunately, Taylor's case cleared up with steroids, allergy medicine and antihistamines.

A painful lesson learned about a plant that poses a threat all year round.

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