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Exposure to poison ivy causes a rash, and several treatments can help. Urushiol, an oil in the leaves, stems, and roots of the plant, triggers an allergic reaction, resulting in the distinctive, itchy rash.
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This article looks at when to receive urgent care for a poison ivy rash, how to treat mild cases at home, and how to prevent exposure to the plant.
We also look at some products that may help soothe the rash.
The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) advises people with any of these symptoms after exposure to poison ivy to receive emergency care:
- trouble breathing or swallowing
- a rash in or around the eyes, mouth, or genitals
- swelling around the face, particularly the eyes
- severe itchiness that gets worse or does not improve
- a rash that spreads or covers most of the body
- a fever
These could indicate a severe allergic reaction.
To treat a mild poison ivy rash, the AAD recommends:
- Washing the exposed skin: Use lukewarm, soapy water, and do this as soon as possible. It will help remove the oil that causes the rash. Scrub the fingernails, too.
- Washing the clothes: Wearing gloves, remove and wash all the clothes worn at the time of exposure to poison ivy. If a pet may have had contact with the plant, bathe the pet while wearing gloves.
- Avoiding scratching: Scratching the skin or peeling burst blisters may cause an infection.
- Taking a bath or shower: Take short, lukewarm baths to soothe any itchiness. Adding oatmeal and baking soda may help. If bathing is not possible, a quick, cool shower may also relieve the itchiness.
- Applying topical lotions and compresses: Apply calamine lotion, hydrocortisone cream, or cool compresses, such as a cool, damp washcloth to the itchy areas.
Antihistamine tablets may also help relieve mild itching. According to Poison Control, people should not use antihistamine creams, however, as these may worsen the irritation.
Please note that the writer of this article has not tried these products. All information presented is purely research-based and was correct at the time of publication.
Also, none of the following products have been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Medical News Today follows a strict product selection and vetting process. Learn more here.
The following products may help prevent or treat the symptoms of a poison ivy rash. They are available for purchase in stores or online.
Using the following products while bathing may may help relieve poison ivy rash symptoms.
The company says that this bar soap can soothe, cleanse, and calm irritated skin after contact with poison ivy.
The soap contains:
- tea tree oil
- soybean oil
- sunflower seed oil
- oat kernel extract, or Aveena sativa
The product is also available as a topical cream or spray.
This product aims to relieve itchiness caused by poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac.
It contains only natural colloidal oatmeal.
To use it, empty a packet into a warm bath and soak for 15–30 minutes.
This medicated bath treatment contains aluminum acetate, which helps relieve itchiness and irritation due to poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac.
A person can use this product as a soak or in a compress or wet dressing for 15–30 minutes at a time, as needed.
Many soothing lotions and creams can help relieve the itchiness of a poison ivy rash. People can purchase the following without a prescription.
The company says that this product removes urushiol, the plant oil that triggers the rash.
A person can apply it before or after the rash appears.
If the rash has already appeared, a person should wet their skin, gently rub the product in for 15 seconds, and rinse using cool water.
This lotion contains calamine and oats to help relieve itchiness.
The company adds that the product:
- can help numb pain
- soothes skin reactions to poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac
- protects the skin
- helps dry weeping blisters
The company says that this lotion dries weeping blisters and provides temporary relief from pain and itchiness.
The active ingredients include pramoxine hydrochloride, to ease pain, and zinc acetate, to protect the skin.
The appearance of the rash can depend on the nature of the exposure. For example, if the body brushes against the plant, the rash may appear in a straight line.
If someone gets urushiol on their hands, and it then spreads to pet fur or gardening tools, for example, the rash may eventually appear in a range of areas.
The rash may have:
- flushed, itchy bumps
- black spots or streaks, in some cases
- flushed streaks
The first time a person has this rash, it can take 2–3 weeks to appear. For people who have had it before, it can appear in a few hours.
When a person comes into contact with poison ivy, they go on to experience:
- intense itchiness
- a rash that appears shortly afterward, maybe with blisters
- the blisters breaking open and leaking fluid
- the blisters crusting over
After the blisters crust over, the rash fades in 2–3 weeks.
Being able to recognize and avoid poison ivy is crucial. The plant may be a vine or small shrub. Each shoot has
The leaves may be red in the spring, green in the summer, and yellow, orange, or red during the fall. Poison ivy may also have greenish-white flowers and pale yellow or white berries.
- wearing long-sleeved tops, long pants, boots, and gloves when working outside
- using a barrier product to help protect the skin from exposure to poisonous plants
- cleaning gardening tools and sports equipment with rubbing alcohol or soapy water after use
- never burning any plants that might be poison ivy, as the fumes could cause a respiratory allergic reaction
The AAD recommends contacting a healthcare professional, such as a dermatologist, if:
- The rash does not improve after 7–10 days of home treatment.
- There are signs of an infection, such as redness, swelling, or pain.
- It is not clear whether the rash stems from poison ivy.
The best course of treatment depends on how severe or widespread the rash is and whether there are signs of an infection. Doctors may prescribe steroid creams or oral antibiotics.
Below are answers to some frequently asked questions about poison ivy.
What stops the rash from spreading?
The AAD says that the following steps can help keep the rash from appearing or spreading:
- immediately washing the skin with lukewarm, soapy water
- washing all the clothing the person was wearing when they encountered the plant
- washing all surfaces, objects, and pets that may have come into contact with the plant
Wear gloves when washing clothing, surfaces, objects, and pets to reduce the chances of touching the oil.
Where does poison ivy grow?
Poison ivy grows all over the United States, apart from Alaska and Hawaii.
What other plants can cause rashes?
The ADD warns that many other plants can also cause skin rashes, such as:
- giant hogweed
- poison hemlock
- poison sumac
- cow parsnip
- wild parsnip
- poodle-dog bush
- poison oak
- spotted water hemlock
All of these plants grow across the continental United States. Most, except for poison oak and poison ivy, grow in Alaska.
A poison ivy rash stems from exposure to an oil in the plant.
Seek emergency treatment if a severe rash, swelling, or trouble breathing occur, or if the rash affects the eyes, mouth, or genitals.
People can treat mild rashes at home. Thoroughly wash any areas of exposed skin, and wearing gloves, wash anything else, such as gardening tools, that may have come into contact with the plant.
If the rash lasts longer than 7–10 days, see a healthcare professional, such as a dermatologist.
Easing the symptoms of the rash might involve using soothing creams, bath additives, and antihistamine pills. A wide range of nonprescription products are available online and in stores.
Identifying and avoiding poison ivy, wearing protective clothing, and using barrier creams can reduce the risk of exposure.
SHOP FOR POISON IVY RELIEF
Some of the products listed in this article are available to purchase in stores and online: