What is poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac?
Poison Ivy Rash
Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac are plants that are found throughout North America. Leaves, stems, roots and berries of all of these plants cause the same type of skin rash. More than 50% of people are sensitive to the oil of these plants.
The rash is very itchy and can have streaks or patches of redness and blisters on exposed body surfaces (such as the hands). The rash appears 1 or 2 days after you have been exposed to the plant in a forest or field.
How long does it last?
The rash usually lasts 2 weeks. Treatment reduces the symptoms but does not cure the rash.
How can I take care of myself?
- Wash the area If you think you have had contact with one of these plants, wash the exposed areas of skin with any available soap for 5 minutes. Take special care to clean under your fingernails. Do this as soon as possible because after 1 hour it is too late to prevent the oil from absorbing into the skin.
- Cool soaks Soak the area with the rash in cold water or massage it with an ice cube for 20 minutes as often as necessary. Let it air dry after the soaking or massage. This will reduce itching and oozing.
- Steroid creams If applied early, a steroid cream can reduce the itching. Ask your pharmacist to recommend a nonprescription 1% hydrocortisone cream. Your provider may recommend a stronger prescription steroid cream. Your cream is. Put the cream on the area with the rash times a day for days.
- Oral steroids Severe or widespread poison ivy requires oral steroids to bring it under control. Your steroid is Give every hours for days.
- Benadryl If itching persists, take Benadryl orally (no prescription needed) 50 mg every 6 hours as needed.
- Contagiousness The fluid from the sores themselves cannot spread the rash. However, oil or sap from the poisonous plant may stay on your pet's fur or on your clothes or shoes. This oil or sap remains as an irritant for about a week. Be sure to wash it off clothes or pets with soap and water.
The sores should be dried up and no longer itchy in 10 to 14 days. In the meantime, cut your fingernails short and try not to scratch the rash.
A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition. Sensitized people are at risk if they:
- Work or play in wooded areas during the spring, summer, and fall
- Touch pets or animals that have come in contact with these plants
- Handle clothes or objects that have come in contact with these plants
- Are exposed to the smoke of these plants if they are burned
How can I prevent the rash?
- Learn to recognize these plants. Poison ivy grows in all regions of North America. Poison oak grows in western North America and the southeastern region of the U.S. To be safe, avoid all plants with three large green leaves on each stem. Another clue is shiny black spots on damaged leaves. (The plant sap turns black when exposed to air.)
- Everyone should wear long pants or socks when walking through woods that may contain poison ivy, oak, or sumac. You may want to use a barrier skin cream such as IvyBlock, which is specifically made for this purpose.
When should I call my healthcare provider?
Call during office hours if:
- The itching becomes severe, even with treatment.
- The skin looks infected (you see pus or soft yellow scabs).
- The rash lasts longer than 2 weeks.
- You have other concerns or questions.
Preventing Poison Ivy
In addition to getting rid of poison ivy when you find it, you can avoid poison ivy by:
- wearing long pants and a shirt with long sleeves, boots and gloves when your kids will be most at risk, especially when playing in wooden areas, around lakes, or going on hikes
- apply Ivy-Block to exposed areas
If you have been exposed to poison ivy, oak, or sumac, wash your entire body immediately. You can reduce your chance of getting a rash if you wash thoroughly with soap and water within 10-15 minutes of exposure. Using alcohol and water, wash all clothes, tools, and shoes that were in contact with the plant. One small study shows that cleaning with the oil-removing compound “Goop” or the poison-ivy prevention substance “Tecnu” is more effective than using soap alone. All three treatments reduced the occurrence of skin rash by more than 50% following contact.
If a rash develops, the itching and blisters will usually disappear in 7-14 days without treatment. Treatment to reduce discomfort includes:
- Cool compresses with water or whole milk
- Oral antihistamines
- Over-the-counter medications:
- Calamine lotion
- Zinc oxide or baking soda (to dry oozing blisters)
- Diluted aluminum acetate solution (Burow's solution)
- Steroid medications:
- Cortisone creams—can relieve symptoms and may also shorten the duration of the rash
- These are available over-the-counter (much weaker) and by prescription.
- Oral corticosteroids—may be prescribed in severe cases
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