How to recognize poison ivy

Hints from Heloise

Dear Heloise: My children are allergic to poison ivy, and last summer, I had three miserable, scratching and crying kids. Frankly, I have no idea what the difference is between poison ivy, sumac and poison oak. For my family and others who suffer from this allergy, could you tell us a little about these three plants? — Carol S., Pocatello, Idaho

Carol, here’s some information to help you distinguish between these plants:

— Poison ivy will usually have three broad, tear-drop-shaped leaves. They grow on a climbing vine or on a low vine that hugs the ground. They can grow in the grass or along streams, rivers, beaches or lakes.

— Poison oak has leaves that closely resemble an oak leaf, and it can grow as a vine or a shrub. You’ll find it generally has about three (occasionally more) leaflets in a cluster. It’s most often found in the western half of the North American continent.

— Sumac has about 6 to 13 leaflets on each stem. The leaves have a smooth surface with a pointed tip at the end. Sumac thrives in wooded, wet areas of the country.

The oil of these plants contains urushiol, which can easily cling to the skin, hair and clothing of a person or the fur of a pet. If you come into contact with any of these three plants, wash the affected area as soon as you can with soap and cold water. Shower or hose yourself off outside, but do not take a bath because it will spread the oil.

If red, swollen blisters appear, you can use any number of over-the-counter medications to relieve the itching. A hydrocortisone cream will help with the urge to scratch. If the blisters do not go away after a 10-day period, see a doctor. — Heloise


Dear Heloise: We have owned a cabin on a lake for several years. This past summer, we realized that the place needed some repairs and updating. The work was not cheap, and my husband did as much work himself as he could. We used some very simple ideas on places that were noisy and giving us trouble. My husband put olive oil on all the screen door hinges to stop the squeaking.

The wooden stairs to the second floor creaked when anyone stepped on them, so he used baby powder on the areas where a step met the riser above. He worked the powder into the thin separation of the flat step and the riser. It worked! No more creaking sounds.

We put shutter dogs (the curved metal thing at the bottom of a shutter) to keep shutters from rattling when we have a windy day. The silence is golden! — Dorothy J., Port Huron, Michigan


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