How to - The Healthy Gardener

First aid for gardeners

What you need to know to stay safe in the garden

Skin irritation
While the old adage ‘leaves of three, leave it be’ is a pretty good mantra, contact with poison ivy and other skin-irritating plants can and does happen.

In the event that you do have a run-in with a skin-irritating plant, “You want to flush the skin with cool water,” Johnson recommends. “Make sure you have all the sap or whatever it is off. You should also wash clothing that might have come in contact with the plant.” Once the skin is clean, you can apply an ointment or lotion designed to help get rid of the itch, such as calamine lotion.

Whatever you do, don’t have a bath when you have been exposed to a skin irritant in the garden, as oils from the plants will float in the bath and can spread irritation to other areas of your body.

If you think you can avoid having to clear a poison ivy patch by burning the plants, think again: “You should never burn that type of plant, because the irritant can be inhaled, and that can cause really bad problems,” Johnson warns. If you need to remove poison ivy, a good pair of work gloves and appropriate clothing will help prevent the plant from touching your skin.

Insect stings
Bugs and the garden go hand in hand, and that means the occasional sting.

If you have been stung and have no allergies, inspect the sting site carefully to see if the stinger is still in your skin. “If it’s there, scrape it off the skin using a credit card, don’t use tweezers or fingers, because there is sometimes a little poison sac attached to the stinger and you’ll oftentimes squeeze more poison into the body,” Johnson stresses.

To relieve swelling, itching and redness, Johnson recommends a paste of baking soda and water, or a cold ice compress. If you get stung inside the mouth, you can rinse your mouth with a teaspoon of baking soda dissolved in a glass of water.

Worst-case scenario: You’re allergic, and you had no idea. Johnson says symptoms to watch for include general itching or rash, hives, trouble breathing, anxiety, weakness, headache, or “Anything out of the ordinary, other than the pain of the sting and the sting itself.”

When to go to the hospital: “If you start to get wheezy, if your breathing starts to get a bit laboured and you start seeing reddish blotches all over your body, you need to call 911.”

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