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Poison ivy is a plant well known for causing severe inflammation of the skin, also known as contact dermatitis. The plant contains a sap which causes instant irritation if it comes in contact with the skin.
Poison ivy is native to North America, where it mainly grows in clusters on the edges of woodland - where there is sufficient sunlight for it to grow.
The plant is characterized by clusters of three leaflets, which can range from light green to dark green, each growing on its own stem, connected to a main vine (without any thorns). "Leaflets three; let it be" and "Hairy vine, no friend of mine." are two common mnemonic rhymes to describe the appearance of poison ivy.
Poison ivy sap is found in nearly every part of the plant, including the leaves, stems, and roots. The sap contains an oil called urushiol - if any of this extremely sticky oil comes in contact with the skin it can cause a blistering skin rash.
You can develop a reaction to urushiol from direct contact, touching contaminated objects (such as shoes after walking), and even breathing in smoke from burning poison ivy - which can severely harm the lungs.
More than half of all the people who come into contact with these plants develop an itchy rash. It is thought to affect more than 300,000 Americans every year.
The most dangerous type of exposure occurs when the plant is burned and the smoke is inhaled, affecting the lungs.
A rash can appear within just hours or days after contact with the plant.
Signs of a reaction to poison ivy, include:
The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends washing the irritated area with soap and water to get rid of any remaining oil on the skin, and the rash should start to go within a week or two.
Some effective ways of alleviating the symptoms of the rash include:
If you begin to develop a fever, or if the rash persists for more than two weeks and begins to spread over more parts of the body, it is important to seek medical attention.
People who are at the highest risk of a poison ivy reaction are those who are exposed to the plants. This includes people who engage in a lot of outdoor hobbies or whose job requires them to work outdoors, such as:
Written by Joseph Nordqvist
Copyright: Medical News Today
Not to be reproduced without the permission of Medical News Today.
American Academy of Dermatology - "Poison Ivy: Signs and Symptoms"
American Academy of Family Physicians - "Skin Rashes and Other Changes"
Children's Hospital Boston - "Poison Ivy"
Visit our Dermatology category page for the latest news on this subject.
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Nordqvist, Joseph. "What is poison ivy? What is a poison ivy rash?." Medical News Today. MediLexicon, Intl., 30 Aug. 2013. Web.
12 Dec. 2013. <http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/265375>
Nordqvist, J. (2013, August 30). "What is poison ivy? What is a poison ivy rash?." Medical News Today. Retrieved from
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