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Exposure to poison ivy causes a rash. This occurs due to urushiol, an oil within the leaves, stems, and roots of the plant. It can cause an allergic reaction, resulting in a distinctive, itchy rash. There are several treatment options available.
This article looks at when to seek emergency treatment for 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 a poison ivy rash.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), if a person has any of the following symptoms after exposure to poison ivy, they should seek emergency treatment:
- problems with breathing or swallowing
- a rash in or around the eyes, mouth, or genitals
- swelling around the face, particularly the eyes
- severe itching that gets worse or does not improve
- a rash that spreads or covers most of the body
- a fever
These symptoms could indicate a severe allergic reaction.
It is possible to treat mild poison ivy rash at home. The AAD recommend that people take the following steps:
- Rinsing the skin: Rinse the skin with lukewarm, soapy water as soon as possible. This will help remove the oil that causes the rash. A person should also scrub their fingernails.
- Washing the clothes: While wearing gloves, remove all clothes worn at the time of exposure to poison ivy. A person should wash these clothes and any items that may have the oil on them. If a pet has oil on its fur, people should also wash them while wearing gloves.
- Avoiding scratching: Scratching, itching, or peeling the skin of burst blisters may cause infection.
- Taking a bath or shower: People should take short, lukewarm baths to soothe any itching. Adding oatmeal and baking soda may also help. If it is not possible to take a bath, a quick, cool shower may relieve the itching.
- Applying topical lotions: Treat areas of itching with calamine lotion, hydrocortisone cream, or cool compresses, such as a cool damp washcloth.
Antihistamine tablets may also help relieve mild itching. However, according to Poison Control, people should not use antihistamine creams, as this may worsen the irritation.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warn that a person should not apply these creams or lotions to open blisters.
The following products may help prevent or treat the symptoms of poison ivy rash. They are available for purchase in stores or online.
Please note, however, that the statements below are based only on research. No one at Medical News Today, including the writer, has tried these products. None of the following products have been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The following bath products may help relieve poison ivy rash symptoms.
All Terrain Natural Poison Ivy/Oak Bar
The manufacturer claims 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.
Aveeno Soothing Bath Treatment
This product claims to relieve itchy skin due to poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac.
The company state their product contains only natural colloidal oatmeal.
To use this product, a person empties the packet into a warm bath and soaks for 15–30 minutes.
Domeboro Medicated Soak Rash Relief
This medicated bath treatment contains aluminum acetate, which helps relieve itching and irritation due to poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac.
A person can use this product as a soak, compress, or wet dressing, for 15–30 minutes as needed.
There is a wide range of soothing lotions and creams that can help with the itchiness of poison ivy rash. People can purchase these without a prescription.
Tecnu Extreme Poison Ivy and Oak Scrub
The company say this product removes urushiol and that people can apply it before or after the rash appears.
If the rash has already appeared, a person should wet the skin and apply the product. They should gently rub it in for 15 seconds and rinse using cool water.
Aveeno Anti-Itch Concentrated Lotion
This lotion contains calamine and oats to help provide relief from itching.
The company state this product:
- is an external analgesic
- soothes poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac, and other conditions
- protects the skin
- helps dry weeping blisters
Solimo Clear Anti-Itch Lotion
The company claim this is an analgesic skin protectant, which provides temporary relief from pain and itching.
The active ingredients include pramoxine HCL, an external analgesic, and zinc acetate, a skin protectant.
It also claims to dry weeping blisters.
A poison ivy rash may look different depending on how the person encounters the plant. For example, if their body brushes against it, the rash may look like a straight line.
If someone gets urushiol on their hands, which can transfer from pet fur or gardening tools, they may inadvertently spread it to other parts of the body.
A person can experience:
- flushed, itchy bumps on the skin
- black spots or streaks in some cases
- flushed streaks and black spots
The AAD mention that if a person has experienced a poison ivy rash before, the new rash could take a few hours to develop. However, a first-time rash can take 2–3 weeks to appear.
If people come into contact with poison ivy, they can expect the following symptoms:
- Intense itching of the skin.
- A rash appears shortly afterward, with possible blisters.
- These blisters break open and leak fluid.
- Afterward, the blisters crust over.
After the blisters crust over, the rash will disappear in 2–3 weeks.
People can help avoid exposure to poison ivy if they know how to recognize the plant.
According to the FDA, poison ivy appears as a vine or small shrub, with three glossy leaves that may have smooth or serrated edges.
Its leaves may be red in spring, green in summer, and yellow, orange, or red during fall. Poison ivy may also have greenish-white flowers and pale yellow or white berries.
The CDC also recommend that people take the following precautions when outdoors:
- 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 tools or sports equipment with rubbing alcohol or soapy water after use
- never burning plants that may be poison ivy, as the fumes could cause a respiratory allergic reaction
The AAD recommend that people see a healthcare provider or dermatologist if:
- a rash does not improve after 7–10 days of home treatment
- there are signs of infection, such as redness, swelling, or pain
- they are not sure a rash is due to poison ivy
Treatment will depend on how severe or widespread the rash is, and whether there are signs of infection. Doctors may prescribe steroid creams or oral antibiotics to help clear symptoms.
A poison ivy rash occurs due to exposure to an oil called urushiol, which is present in the plant.
A person should seek emergency medical treatment if they experience a severe rash, swelling, problems with breathing, or if the rash affects their eyes, mouth, or genitals.
Otherwise, people can treat poison ivy rash at home. They should thoroughly wash off any oil that remains on the skin and use soothing creams, bath additives, or antihistamine pills.
People who still have a rash after 7–10 days of home treatment should see a healthcare provider or dermatologist.
There is a wide range of products available online and in stores. A person can buy them without a prescription.
Preventive measures, such as identifying and avoiding poison ivy, wearing suitable clothing, and using barrier creams, may reduce exposure to poison ivy.
SHOP FOR POISON IVY RELIEF
Some of the products listed in this article are available to purchase in stores and online: