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Poison Ivy: Treatment and Avoidance

It’s almost a rite of passage—your first poison ivy rash. But it’s one we’d all like to miss! Educate yourself about poison ivy and other poisonous plants and you may just be able to avoid this very uncomfortable reaction.

What Causes the Poison Ivy Rash?

The rash we get from contact with poison ivy, poison oak, and sumac is caused by oil in the plants called urushiol (yoo-roo-she-all). You can get it directly from the plants or from an object that has the oil on it—like gardening tools or gloves. Up to 85 percent of people are allergic to urushiol, making it highly likely that you will have a reaction when you come in contact with it.

The poison ivy rash is not contagious, nor does it spread. It does take a few days to fully develop, or reach its full peak on your body, so some people mistakenly believe that itching the rash causes it to spread; this is not the case.

Poison Ivy Symptoms

  • A burning sensation accompanied by inflammation
  • Red streaks or patches
  • An itchy rash
  • Swelling
  • Blisters that may expel fluid and crust over

Avoiding Contact with Poison Ivy and Other Poisonous Plants

The best way to avoid a skin reaction to poison ivy is to stay away from it! Follow these tips:

  • Know what poison ivy and other poisonous plants look like and where they are likely to thrive.
  • If you must be near poison ivy, wear gardening gloves and other protective gear along with long sleeved shirts and pants tucked into boots.
  • If you suspect you’ve come in contact with poison ivy, poison oak, or sumac, wash your skin as soon as possible with soap and water to help prevent or lessen the spread of the rash.
  • Apply a topical product like “IvyX” to your skin before going out where there may be poisonous plants.
  • If you think your pet may have come into contact with poison ivy, wash her with pet shampoo; dogs are not susceptible to poison ivy but the urushiol can transfer to anyone who touches her.

Poison Ivy Treatment

The rash should clear up in about two weeks. During this time, the most important thing to do, and the hardest, is to keep yourself from scratching your poison ivy rash. Bacteria from your fingernails can infect the blisters.

In the meantime, you may get some relief from:

  • Applying cool compresses
  • Applying an over-the-counter corticosteroid ointment or taking prescription oral corticosteroids
  • Using over-the-counter skin protectants, such as calamine lotion zinc acetate, zinc carbonate, zinc oxide, and to dry the blisters
  • Applying a baking soda and water mixture or colloidal oatmeal to help relieve itching

Occasionally, a typical poisonous plant rash can become more serious. Go to an urgent care clinic if you experience:

  • A fever that develops after exposure
  • Rash on your eyes, lips, face, or genitals
  • Rash that covers more than one quarter of your body
  • Severe blistering and swelling, or difficulty breathing

If you have questions about poison ivy or other poisonous plants, call Fast Track Urgent care at 800-417-1164. If you need treatment for poison ivy, come to one of our walk-in clinics in the Silver Spring area. You never need an appointment!