What to Do About Poison Ivy Rash
With so much conflicting advice on what to do about poison ivy rash, it is natural to be torn. Are home remedies effective, or should I rush off to a convenient care? Perhaps neither … or both!
It may not be necessary to seek medical treatment for a poison ivy rash, but that depends on rash location, severity and your own sensitivity to the poisonous plant. Before we scratch the surface on poison ivy treatment, let’s answer all the questions you are itching to ask about the poison ivy plant and the rash that results from it.
Remember the saying, “Leaves of three, let it be.” The leaflet of poison ivy grows in groups of three with leaf groups staggered along the vine. Don't confuse poison ivy with boxelder or Virginia creeper: Boxelder stems grow symmetrically along the vine, while the creeper features groupings of five leaflets.
Of these three plants, only poison ivy produces a plant oil called urushiol that causes an allergic reaction where it encounters skin. Unfortunately, poison ivy is extremely common throughout most of the United States.
Direct contact with the poison ivy plant produces a swollen, blistering rash in sensitive individuals. It often shows up in a red, streaky pattern on areas of the body that have brushed against poison ivy leaves. This itchy rash may be warm to the touch.
Yes, you can get poison ivy rash without directly touching the plant. Touching someone who has been in contact with the plant and has urushiol oil on their skin will make poison ivy spread person to person via direct contact with the oil.
Poison ivy rash is not contagious, but it is possible to spread the rash by spreading the oily resin that causes the rash. Many people get a reaction to poison ivy resin when their children or pets brush against the plant and transfer urushiol oil to others.
Most people have poison ivy for 2 weeks or less, although the duration can vary from one person to another. It is rare to have poison ivy for over a month. If you have had poison ivy for weeks and it has not improved, see a doctor.
If you get poison ivy near your eye, mouth or genitals — or the rash is widespread — treatment is recommended. The rash can produce swelling that is more serious on certain sensitive parts of the body.
It is not usually necessary to keep a child home from school due to poison ivy, since the rash is not contagious. However, if it becomes severe, uncomfortable or disruptive, it may be best to keep the child home until the rash improves.
Does hot water help with poison ivy? Will rubbing alcohol dry up poison ivy? There are all kinds of home remedies touted as cures. Most treatments will only shorten the life of the rash and reduce discomfort. Here are some poison ivy treatments to use at home:
- Baking soda. When applied directly to a poison ivy rash, baking soda can help with itching. Make a paste by mixing three parts baking soda with one part water and spread the paste over the rash.
- Oatmeal baths. Colloidal oatmeal has been used for centuries to ease the inflammation and itch of poison ivy. These baths also help dry the rash.
- Cool water. While that steaming-hot shower might bring short-term relief, we don't recommend it. Heat opens pores, creating an easier pathway for resin to enter the skin. Instead, bathe in cool or tepid water for longer-lasting relief. Use cold compresses on the affected areas the rest of the day.
- Anti-itch medication. Hydrocortisone cream, ointment and gel, and menthol-containing calamine lotion, will tame the maddening itch of poison ivy rash. Be cautious about using them around the eyes.
- Skin protection. Keep the affected area clean and dry, except when bathing and using cold compresses. If your rash blisters or breaks open, bandage it lightly to prevent infection.
The surest way to prevent poison ivy rash is to avoid contact with the plant. Wear long sleeves and pants during yard work. Within 10 minutes of potential contact with the plant, wash your skin to remove any resin. Thoroughly wash garden tools before using them again.
Poison ivy rash can be treated at home. However, see a doctor if it becomes severe, widespread, gets close to eyes, or is accompanied by fever, chills or infection.
BJC Medical Group primary care providers, convenient care clinics (walk-in or reserve a time online) and virtual care on-demand services are set up to diagnose and prescribe treatment for poison ivy. Use our easy online tools.
Visit your nearest BJC Medical Group Convenient Care clinic for in-person treatment. Schedule an appointment online.
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