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Medical Conditions 

Poisonous Plants

Vegetation greatly enriches outdoor experiences, but there are a few species of plants that outdoor travelers will want to avoid. Poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac, and nettles can cause skin inflammation and itching. Don't eat wild plants, including mushrooms, unless you are positive that you can identify them and know that they are safe for human consumption. For more on vegetation, see the chapter titled "Plants."

Incident Response for Exposure to Poisonous Plants

The irritants in poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac can take up to 10 minutes to bond with the skin. Thoroughly washing with soap and water, or with water alone, soon after exposure to these plants can minimize their effects. The same is true of nettles. Hydrocortisone cream might reduce itching. Avoid scratching affected skin, as that can increase the size of the irritated area.

If someone has ingested poisonous plants, induce vomiting. Save some of the vomit in a plastic bag for medical analysis, and get the person to a physician.

Anaphylactic Shock

In rare cases, stings or bites of insects can cause anaphylactic shock, a condition that restricts breathing passages and requires immediate treatment by a physician or a person trained in emergency first aid. People who are allergic to peanuts, shellfish, and certain other foods can have similar reactions if they ingest those items.

Travelers who know they are susceptible to anaphylactic reactions (and anyone dealing with asthma) should consult with their physicians to prepare themselves for the outdoors with strategies and treatment kits, and should share that information with the leaders of their groups. For example, the emergency kits carried by people who know they might suffer from anaphylactic shock often include an EpiPen® for injecting a measured dose of epinephrine.


The symptoms of an asthma attack can be similar to those of a person suffering anaphylactic shock—a constriction of the throat and increasing difficulty in breathing. Conditions that might trigger an asthma attack include dust, physical exertion, changes in humidity, and changes in elevation. Many people coping with asthma use inhalers and other forms of medication to treat asthma episodes. Before a trek begins, they should fully inform group leaders of their health histories, treatment regimens, medications, and the locations of those medications.

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