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Poison Ivy treatments and tips from Dermatologists

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Summer is around the corner and so are poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac waiting in lush fields and green spaces where your kids love to play. These green plants contain oils that will cause itchy, blistering rash in most people (about 85 percent) if it touches skin. The oil can spread to other areas of the body or from person to person if not treated or washed off correctly. Fortunately, the American Academy of Dermatology and board-certified dermatologist Seemal R. Desai, MD, FAAD, offer these simple steps to safely treat the rash at home.

Poison Ivy Rash
Poison Ivy Rash Courtesy of American Academy of Dermatology

Poison Ivy Rash

1.     Immediately rinse your skin with lukewarm, soapy water. If you can rinse your skin immediately after touching poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac, you may be able to rinse off some of the oil. This helps ensure that the oil does not spread to other areas of the body and cause additional rashes.

2.     Wash your clothing. Thoroughly wash all of the clothes you were wearing when you came into contact with the poisonous plant. The oil can stick to clothing, and if it touches your skin, it can cause another rash.

3.     Wash everything that may have the oil on its surface. Besides clothing, the oil from poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac can stick to many surfaces, including gardening tools, golf clubs, leashes and even a pet’s fur. Be sure to rinse your pet’s fur, and wash tools and other objects with warm, soapy water.

4.     Do not scratch, as scratching can cause an infection.

5.     Leave blisters alone. If blisters open, do not remove the overlying skin, as the skin can protect the raw wound underneath and prevent infection.

6.     Take short, lukewarm baths. To ease the itch, take short, lukewarm baths in a colloidal oatmeal preparation, which you can buy at your local drugstore. You can also draw a bath and add one cup of baking soda to the running water. Taking short, cool showers may also help.

7.     Consider calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream. Apply calamine lotion to skin that itches. If you have a mild case, a hydrocortisone cream or lotion may also help.

8.     Apply cool compresses to the itchy skin. You can make a cool compress by wetting a clean washcloth with cold water and wringing it out so that it does not drip. Then, apply the cool cloth to the itchy skin.

9.     Consider taking antihistamine pills. These pills can help reduce itching, however use with caution. You should not apply a topical antihistamine to your skin, as doing so can worsen the rash and the itch.

According to Dr. Desai, “A rash from poison ivy, oak or sumac usually lasts one to three weeks.  If your rash is not improving after seven to 10 days, or you think your rash may be infected, see a board-certified dermatologist for treatment.”

For more information and helpful tips watch this video from American Academy of Dermatology: “Poison Ivy: How to Treat”.

To identify each plant see the pictures and descriptions below.

Poison Ivy
Poison Ivy Courtesy of American Academy of Dermatology

Poison Ivy

This plant grows as a vine (pictured) in some areas of the United States. In other areas, it is a shrub.  Poison ivy is found everywhere in the US and southern Canada except the far west, deserts and at high altitude.  It loves roadsides and edges of fields so keep a look out in those areas.  The leaf color range from light green (usually the younger leaves) to dark green (mature leaves), turning bright red in fall. 

Poison Oak
Poison Oak Courtesy of American Academy of Dermatology

Poison Oak

Like poison ivy, this plant grows as a vine (pictured) in some areas of the United States. In other regions, it grows as a shrub.  As with poison ivy, it's commonly found around roadsides and on the edge of fields. The plant found on the Southwestern area of the US leaves are split into three hairy leaflets and white berries.  In the U.S. Pacific coast is a shrubby or sometimes climbing plant that grows to 2.4 m (8 ft) high; its three-leaflet leaves are toothed or lobed and are hairless.

Poison Sumac
Poison Sumac Courtesy of American Academy of Dermatology

Poison Sumac

Poison sumac is a shrub or small tree, growing up to nearly 30 feet in height.  This plant has 7 to 13 leaflets on each leaf that can grow in standing water as a tall shrub or small tree.  Its flowers are greenish, growing in loose clusters about 3–8 inches long. The fruits are not quite spherical, gray, flattened, and about 0.2 inches across.  This plant is commonly found in northeast and southeast US.

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