Intense itching. A red, bumpy rash. Swelling and blisters. If you’ve ever suffered from a poison ivy rash, you know the symptoms. And you know you don’t want to experience them ever again.
Poison ivy rashes develop after coming in contact with the oily substance called urushiol found on the roots, stems, and leaves of poison ivy, poison sumac, and poison oak. However, only half the world’s population is allergic to these plants and develops a rash when exposed to the sticky oils. The other lucky half is resistant.
If you’re not sure if you’re allergic to poison ivy, you don’t want to find out the hard way. Keep reading to learn the symptoms, causes, treatment, and prevention of poison ivy rashes.
If you’re skin comes into contact with poison ivy, poison sumac, or poison oak, you may develop an itchy, red, swollen rash that may blister and ooze. In the event the plant brushes against your skin, the rash may be in a straight line. However, a rash that covers a larger area of skin may develop from touching something else (clothing, pet fur, shoes, or a tool) that touched the plant.
That’s right - the oil can get on one surface and rub off on you…sometimes years later. Which means that jacket you wore in the woods last year could have urushiol still on it! The most dangerous exposure to the poisonous oil happens when the oil from a burning plant is inhaled into the lungs and throat.
Rashes range in severity from mild to severe. The amount of urushiol that touches your skin determines the severity of your rash. A reaction usually occurs within 12 to 48 hours following exposure and then lasts from two to three weeks, though it may seem like eternity. Contact with the plant’s oil is what causes the rash. Scratching the rash and fluid from the blisters won’t spread the rash. In addition, no matter how bad the rash may look, it isn’t contagious.
The only way to get a poison ivy rash from another person is if urushiol is on the person or their clothing and you touch it.
The majority of the time, a poison ivy rash will go away by itself. In the meantime, dealing with the extreme itching can be torture. To help control the itch, apply a corticosteroid cream or calamine lotion or take an oral antihistamine (Benadryl) for itch relief and help with sleep. Heat makes the itch worse, so stay cool or place cold, wet compresses on the itchy area for up to half an hour several times each day. You can also take a bath in tepid water with an oatmeal-based product in it.
Severe cases of poison ivy may require medical attention. See your physician if your rash covers a large area or doesn’t subside in a few weeks, if the rash is on your face or genitals, if the blisters are oozing pus, or if you develop a fever. Prescription corticosteroid may be required for a severe or infected rash.
In the unlikely event that you’re exposed to smoke from poison ivy and have difficulty breathing, head to your local emergency department.
Instead of suffering from poison ivy rashes, stay clear of these poisonous plants! The first step to avoidance is learning to identify the plants. Additionally, teach your children to identify them and keep your pets from running near them. Kill or remove the poisonous plants (never burn them) from your yard using thick gloves. If you, your pets, your clothing, or objects have been exposed to urushiol, immediately wash everything with hot soapy water. If you don’t, you’ll wish you did.