Poison Ivy 101

poison-ivy-treatment-2Poison ivy, oak, and sumac are plants that cause an allergic reaction when they touch the skin. Poison ivy rash is caused by a sensitivity to an oily resin called urushiol (u-ROO-she-ol), which is found in the leaves, stems and roots of poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac.Contact with any part of the plants – leave, stems, flowers, berries, or root – can cause the rash. Contact with anything that has touched the plant such as pet fur, gardening tools, or clothing can also cause the rash. Not everyone will get the rash after exposure to the plant.

Signs and symptoms of a poison ivy rash include:

  • Redness
  • Itching
  • Swelling
  • Blisters

The rash is red, itchy, and uncomfortable. It may contain blisters or large bumps. The rash can appear from 5 hours to 15 days after exposure. It is not contagious. Fluid from the blisters does not spread the rash.

Without treatment, the rash usually lasts 10 – 21 days. Almost always, poison ivy, oak, and sumac can be treated at home. Thorough washing to remove any residuals of the plants is essential. Wet compresses, cool baths, and nonprescription antihistamines are helpful in reducing symptoms. Calamine lotion is also beneficial.

A visit to the doctor’s office is needed if:

  • The reaction is severe or widespread
  • The rash affects your face or genitals
  • Blisters are oozing pus
  • You develop a fever greater than 100 F (37.8 C)
  • The rash doesn’t get better within a few weeks

The best way to reduce your chances of poison ivy is to learn how to identify poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac and avoid it.  When hiking or engaging in other activities that might expose you to these plants, try to stay on cleared pathways. If camping, make sure you pitch your tent in an area free of these plants.

Keep pets from running through wooded areas so that urushiol doesn’t accidentally stick to their fur, which you then may touch. If you think your pet may be contaminated with urushiol, put on some long rubber gloves and give your pet a bath.

Before potential exposure to poison ivy, you might want to try an over-the-counter skin cream containing bentoquatam (IvyBlock). Bentoquatam absorbs urushiol and prevents or lessens your skin’s reaction to the oil.

Call our office if you have any questions!