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Contact Poisoning Information for Paddlers

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DISCLAIMER: The following information is not intended, nor should it be assumed to be, a substitute for formal training in First Aid treatment and procedures. This information is presented to raise awareness of some medical conditions which can arise on canoeing, camping or hiking trips so that participants may better prepare themselves for all eventualities. The information presented is not intended to replace advice or instructions given by trained professional medical personnel. Information herein is gleened from various professional medical resources including the US Navy On-line Hospital web site, the American Red Cross web site and other reliable resources. It must be realized that improper or inadequate treatment of injuries can result in damages that sometimes are greater than doing nothing at all. Whenever possible and practical the assistance of trained, professional medical personnel should be summoned to administer treatment for serious injuries. The nature of outdoor recreation is such that injuries sometimes occur in remote areas far from available professional assistance. The information in this section is intended to be a helpful guide for treatment of injuries in such cases when getting professional help is not immediate and the nature of the injuries requires prompt attention. Marc McCord is not a trained medical practitioner, and makes no claim of expertise in treatment of injuries. Marc McCord and Southwest Paddler are not responsible for improper treatment of injuries and resulting damages that may occur.

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.

The good news is that treatment is usually very easy and can be administered by almost anybody without medical training, though it is important to carefully read and follow directions to avoid worsening the problem. If somebody is known or suspected of having contact poisoning problems, and exhibits some of the classic symptoms, then do the following to treat the problem:

1. Wearing gloves, carefully remove contaminated clothing, being careful not to spread the contamination to the affected person or others;
2. Carefully brush away dry substances and/or absorb liquid substances;
3. Thoroughly flush the affected area with large quantities of clean water (use a shower or hose, if available);
4. Monitor the airway, breathing and circulation (ABC's) of the victim;
5. Treat for shock, if necessary;
6. Contact local or national Poison Control Center or professional medical help immediately, if necessary;
7. Get immediate medical help for absorption poisoning.

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.

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© November 16, 2002. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1997-2015, Marc W. McCord dba CobraGraphics. All rights reserved. Southwest Paddler, CobraGraphics and Canoeman River Guide Services are exclusive tradenames and trademarks of Marc W. McCord dba CobraGraphics. The textual, graphic, audio, and audio/visual material in this site is protected by United States copyright law and international treaties. You may not copy, distribute, or use these materials except for your personal, non-commercial use. Any trademarks are the property of their respective owners. All original photos on this web site are the exclusive property of Marc W. McCord or other designated photographers and may not be copied, duplicated, reproduced, distributed or used in any manner except upon prior written permission under penalty of US and International laws and treaties.

Last updated December 12, 2014