A common malady that afflicts paddlers, campers and hikers is contact poisoning from plants containing allergic reaction juices such as poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac, among others. Pollutants such as industrial and consumer lawn and garden insecticides and chemicals also cause allergic reactions in some people, either through skin absorption or inhalation. Contact with poisonous plants or airborn pollutants does not affect everybody, but may adversely affect some. It should be recognized that direct contact with these plants is not the only way to become infected by them. Burning brush or high winds may carry the poisons from plants or insecticides and chemicals long distances.
While it is commonly believed by many people that only the leaves of poisonous plants contain poison that can affect the skin, the truth is that the stems and roots of such plants can also cause irritation. For most who are affected by such contact the results will be a minor skin irritation that may include redness, minor swelling, blisters, rash, breathing difficulty, increased pulse, skin itching that must not be scratched to avoid spreading of the infection, fever, headaches or a general feeling of weakness.
Do NOT overreact! Some contact poisonings are very minor, and may cause nothing more than an inconvenience and minor discomfort. However, if there is any doubt as to the severity of the poisoning, then do not delay in summoning professional medical assistance or transporting the victim as quickly as possible. If symptoms appear to be serious, or the victim reacts in such a way as to suggest the onset of major complications, then take no chances and seek professional help immediately.