What is poison ivy?
- “Poison ivy” is the term used to refer to contact dermatitis
- Poison ivy is a rash that erupts after you have come into contact with poison ivy, oak or sumac.
- This is 1 of the most common allergic reactions in the country.
- A sap that comes from these plants causes an allergic response that triggers the rash on our skin. This sap is colorless, but turns brown to black after exposure to air.
- You can come into contact with this sap from any cut or crushed area of the leaves or the plant.
- Poison ivy, oak and sumac grow almost everywhere in the United States.
- The oil of these plants can be spread by many things
- Direct contact with the sap
- Indirect contact with objects that have come into contact with the sap, such as shoes, clothes, sports equipment, garden utensils, or fur of animals
- Airborne contact with the smoke of the burning bush
What does the plant look like?
- Poison ivy: This plant usually grows as a shrub in this area, but may grow as a vine. It has 3 leaflets to form its leaves.
- Poison oak: This plant is usually a shrub, but it can grow as a vine. It has 3 leaflets that form the leaves.
- Poison sumac: This plant grows in standing water, such as peat bogs. Each leaf has 7 leaflets.
- The reaction usually begins within 12 – 48 hours after exposure.
- The rash can affect almost any part of the body.
- Burning sensation
- Some people can develop swelling in the throat, dizziness, and difficulty breathing if the reaction is severe.
- You may have heard the saying “Leaflets three, let them be”. This refers to the way the leaves grow in poison ivy and oak.
- If you know you have been exposed to one of the plants within the previous 6 hours, you may:
- Remove all your clothes and shoes that touched the plant. Wash them as you are able.
- Wash your skin with soap and water
- Apply rubbing alcohol the parts of the skin that are affected.
- Rinse with water
- Make sure you wash all clothes and shoes with hot water and a strong soap.
- Bathe any pets that have come into contact with the plants.
- Keep your hands away from your eyes, mouth and face.
- Do not scratch or rub the rash.
- Take an over the counter antihistamine such as Claritin or Benedryl as directed on the label.
- Apply any of the following:
- Calamine lotion
- Zinc oxide ointment
- Paste made with baking soda; 3 teaspoons baking soda mixed with 1 teaspoon water
- Take a lukewarm bath. You may use an over the counter preparation such as Aveeno colloidal oatmeal to the water.
- If there is no relief with these measures, please see a provider.
- Scratching poison ivy blisters will spread the rash.
False: The fluid in the blisters will not spread the rash. The rash is spread by the sap in the plant.
- Poison ivy is catching.
False: The rash is an allergic reaction to the sap in the plant.
- Dead poison ivy plants are no longer toxic.
False: The sap in the plants can remain active for up to several years.
- Rubbing weeds on the skin will help.
False: There is no substance in the weeds that will relieve the symptoms of poison ivy.
- One way to protect against poison ivy is to keep yourself covered.
True: However, you need to wash your clothes and shoes after they have been exposed to the sap. Also, any uncovered areas are still vulnerable to the sap.
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Last Updated 5/21/12
at the Health Center.