Healthy Living

Poison Ivy Rash 101: Everything You Need to Know

May 30 2023

If you spend lots of time outdoors in the summer, you may find yourself needing to know how to treat poison ivy.

Poison ivy has an oil inside called urushiol that causes an allergic reaction in most people. It shows up on your skin as an itchy rash in the places that touched the oil.

What does poison ivy look like?

Poison ivy grows as a shrub or a vine. Its leaves split into three sections, called leaflets, and these leaflets may contain white berries. In the summer, the leaves are bright green. They turn yellow or orange in the fall and red in the spring.

As the old saying goes, “leaves of three, let it be.” This is a common way for people to remember how to identify poison ivy so they can avoid touching it.

What does a poison ivy rash look like?

A poison ivy rash typically shows up within three days after you touch the oil. You may notice red patches on your skin with raised blisters. The rash can also appear in streaks where the plant’s stems moved across your limbs.

In addition to the rash, you may see swelling in the area. And if you are allergic to poison ivy, you may have a severe reaction that includes pus-filled blisters.

How long does a poison ivy rash last?

While it typically appears within three days, a poison ivy rash can show up anywhere from four hours to 10 days after your skin comes in contact with the plant’s oil.

From there, the rash typically lasts two to three weeks. However, you may notice that the first poison ivy reaction you have can last longer than later reactions. People who are allergic to the plant also may have a more long-term reaction than other people.

Is a poison ivy rash contagious?

No, poison ivy is not contagious, nor does it spread. You can touch a poison ivy rash on someone without developing a rash. However, you may have a reaction if they left traces of the plant’s oil on clothing or another object.

Dogs don’t usually react to poison ivy, but they can pass it on to you if they have some of the oil on their fur. This is why it’s a good idea to wash your dog after it has been in the woods and to thoroughly clean all of your clothing and equipment that may have come in contact with the poison ivy plant.

What are some at-home poison ivy rash treatment options?

If you scratch your poison ivy rash or blisters, you can cause an infection through bacteria under your fingernails. You also may find it hard to relax or sleep with itchy skin.

For this reason, most treatments available for poison ivy aim to relieve the itching you feel.

You can try the following at home:

  • Antihistamines, like diphenhydramine or loratadine
  • Bath soaks in cool water with baking soda or oatmeal
  • Calamine lotion or menthol cream
  • Cool compresses
  • Cortisone cream or ointment

In many cases, you can treat poison ivy at home as long as you know for sure that you came in contact with the plant. However, sometimes home remedies for poison ivy are not enough to treat it. Reach out to your primary care provider if the itchiness does not go away or is interfering with your daily routine. They may be able to give you an oral steroid to relieve itching from a severe rash.

Learn about the primary care services we offer at Bon Secours.

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