Poison ivy rash is caused by urushiol, an oil found in every part of the plant. The oil is absorbed through the skin immediately after exposure and can result in an itchy, red rash at the site of contact. More severe reactions can cause pain and blistering. Like reactions to common allergens, the immune response to urushiol from poison ivy can differ among people and can even develop in adulthood.
Poison ivy rash can not spread to different parts of your body, and it is not contagious to others. By the time the rash has appeared, contact with the plant has already occurred. Scratching the rash is not recommended as it can damage the skin and increase risk of infection.
Most poison ivy rashes go away on their own over a few weeks. Mild rashes can be treated with over-the-counter topical creams or antihistamines to relieve the itching. More severe reactions should be treated by a physician, and treatment can include prescription-strength topical steroids for the rash, and any necessary treatment of resulting infection. Seek a physician’s advice if:
- the rash does not resolve within a few weeks
- spreads to the face, mouth or eyes
- covers a large part of your body
- shows signs of infection at the affected area
The only truly effective measure of preventing poison ivy rash is to steer clear of the plant itself. They are common to all areas of the United States and is probably growing somewhere in your yard. If contact with poison ivy is unavoidable, it is recommended to wear clothing that will cover all parts of exposed skin. Vinyl gloves can provide some protection when touching the plant, but rubber will not prevent exposure. If possible, contact a professional landscaper to remove the poison ivy from your yard.
If you believe your skin has come into contact with the plant, immediately was the area thoroughly with soap and water. The more time between the point of contact and washing the skin, the harder it is to cleanse all of the oil. Any other items that may have come in contact with the plant should be washed as well, to avoid further exposure by contact with residual oil.
Exposure to contaminated items such as tools, clothing, and even pet fur is the primary cause of poison ivy rash, rather than contact with the plant itself. It is unusual for poison ivy to cause serious complications, but it is a notorious cause of some unpleasant summer days.