August 25, 2019

Things You Might Not Know About Poison Ivy

poison ivy.jpgJust the other day, a mother told me that her husband took the kids for a hike–through a whole bunch of poison ivy.

“So far, no rashes,” she said. “I keep checking.”

And she does need to keep checking–because the rash can show a week or longer later (usually with a first exposure), something this mom knew but lots of people don’t.

I’ve found that there are lots of other things that people don’t know about poison ivy. Here are a few:

There are different kinds of poison ivy–and it can look different at different times of year

. The adage “leaves of three, let them be” simply won’t keep you away from everything that can give you a poison ivy rash. The plants grow all over the US, so they are hard to avoid. The

Poison Ivy, Oak and Sumac Information Center

has lots of pictures.

You don’t have to touch it to get the rash. The toxin in the leaves, urushiol, escapes whenever the leaves are broken or bruised–and the toxin can get on things, like gloves, garden tools, and clothing. it can even get into the air if the stuff gets mowed or plowed. This is why…

You can get the rash from people or pets. If they have been the toxin on them, when you touch (or pet) them, you can get it too. Just to be clear: you can’t get the rash from someone’s rash–it’s not contagious that way. It’s the toxin from the plant that gives you the rash.

The best thing to do is to wash immediately. Take off any contaminated clothing, and wash with mild soap and water–as soon as you can. That’s the best thing you can do to get at least some of the urushiol off your skin, and make a reaction less likely. Remember to clean under nails, too.

There are various different rashes you can get from poison ivy. You can get bumps, scales, and various sizes of bubbles and blisters. Often they will be in a line or streak, showing where the plant touched the skin. However the rash looks, it’s usually red (although it can have black spots when the toxin stays on the skin and oxidizes)–and usually itches like crazy.

Treating the itch is all you usually need to do. Simple stuff, like oatmeal baths or cool compresses, can make a real difference. Anti-itch preparations that have menthol or phenol, like calamine, can also help–as can Burow’s solution or Domeboro. Interestingly, antihistamines like Benadryl don’t help all that much because of the way urushiol causes itching. Steroid creams may help if used early, but once there are any bubbles or blisters, they don’t help much.

Sometimes you need to take steroids–and if you do, you need to go off them slowly. In severe cases, taking steroids by mouth is needed–but if you do take them for just a few days, like we often prescribe in asthma, the rash can come back. So the recommendation is to lower the dose bit by bit over two or three weeks.

If you’re ever not sure about a rash, your doctor is your best resource. You should also call your doctor if a rash you think is poison ivy is on the face or genitals, is getting worse, gets very swollen or has pus coming out of it–and you should call if there is fever or the person with the rash seems ill.

Hope your summer is poison-ivy-free!

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Things You Might Not Know About Poison Ivy

An itchy situation: treating poison ivy

Relieve itching from poison ivy
04/30/13 08:44

Q: Our son has contracted his first case of poison ivy this season. What is the best over-the-counter treatment? At what point would he need a prescription?

Poison ivy contains an oil called urushiol. About 85 percent of people are allergic to urushiol and will develop a rash from direct contact. Sometimes, a rash can occur after indirect contact, for example via a pet, clothing or camping equipment. The rash typically will appear about 12 hours after exposure and may worsen or progress over the next several days.

To prevent poison ivy, it is important to be able to identify and avoid the plant. Remember the phrase, “Leaves of three, beware of me.” If poison ivy cannot be avoided, then wear long pants, long sleeves, gloves and consider applying a barrier cream such as bentoquatum.

If your son comes into contact with poison ivy, he should wash the area with cold water (and soap if available) immediately to remove the oil from the skin. If rash develops, oatmeal baths, calamine lotion or Burrow’s solution may be helpful for symptomatic relief. Creams and ointments that contain benzocaine, zirconium or antihistamines should be avoided because some people are allergic to these ingredients. Oral antihistamines, such as Benadryl, may help relieve itching.

A person should seek medical treatment if the rash is widespread, near the eyes, if he or she has an underlying skin condition such as eczema or psoriasis, or if the rash is not resolving after a week. More information about poison ivy is available at aad.org.

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An itchy situation: treating poison ivy

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