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Poison Ivy: What You Need to Know

Oct 26, 2016

Poison ivy is a plant that causes an allergic reaction in the form of a skin rash when people make direct or indirect contact with it. It is not contagious but can cause intense itching and pain. Although many cases can be treated at home, in some instances, it is necessary to call a dermatologist. Here is what you need to know.

What causes a poison ivy reaction?

Poison ivy—as well as poison oak and sumac—contains a substance called urushiol, which is responsible for the reaction exposure to the plant triggers. Urushiol can cause a reaction in a number of ways. Direct contact with the plant is the most obvious way of getting a poison ivy rash. You can also be exposed to urushiol by touching the skin of someone else who has urushiol from poison ivy on them. It is also possible to be exposed to urushiol through airborne contact from burning poison ivy plants. Each type of exposure leads to a reaction within 12 to 48 hours.

What are the symptoms of a reaction?

The first symptoms of poison ivy exposure are redness and a rash that causes swelling and extreme itchiness. As the reaction progresses, it is common for blisters to breakout along the rash. The rash will generally appear more quickly and be most severe in the areas with the highest urushiol exposure. If you touch areas of your body that weren’t exposed to the plant with urushiol on your hands, you can cause the rash to spread. For most people, poison ivy rashes clear up in about three weeks.

How is poison ivy treated?

As soon as possible, rinse the exposed areas with large amounts of warm water to remove the urushiol. Be sure to also wash your hands thoroughly, including scrubbing under your fingernails. Cool compresses, antihistamines, and topical anti-itch lotions can help. If your reaction is severe, could be infected, or affects your face or genitals, see your dermatologist.

From poison ivy rashes to warts, acne treatment, and skin cancer, Arlington Dermatology offers comprehensive general and cosmetic dermatology care in Arlington Heights. Call [company-phone id=1] to make an appointment with a dermatologist today.

Sign that reads, "Caution Poison Ivy Stay on Paths"