Skye likes writing about mental health, nutrition, and wellness. She is passionate about sharing information that will educate, and positively affect people's lives.
Leann Poston, M.D.
Leann Poston, M.D. earned her medical degree from the Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine. She completed an MBA from Raj Soin College of Business, focusing on healthcare. She is a full-time medical communication writer and educator.
April 13, 2021
Poison ivy rashes come from an allergic reaction to the sap in the poison ivy plant. More specifically, most people’s skin is allergic to “an oily resin called urushiol (u-ROO-she-ol),” explains Mayo Clinic. “This oily resin is in the leaves, stems, and roots of poison ivy.” You can get a rash from indirect contact with urushiol as well. If the oil ends up on a jacket or a pant leg, and your skin comes into contact with that section of the clothing, you will probably still develop a poison ivy rash if you are sensitive to urushiol.
EverydayDr is partnered with PlushCare, a telehealth company that connects patients with exceptional online doctors. PlushCare was just named one of the top startups of 2021 by Forbes, and is a quick and easy way to get immediate treatment for poison ivy. Book an appointment with our partners at PlushCare here.
Read on to learn more about poison ivy rashes, what it looks like, and how to treat it.
The rash brought on by poison ivy can present in several different ways.
The signs and symptoms that are most common are:
A good indicator that the rash is poison ivy is to think back to what you were doing throughout the day before the rash appeared. If you were out hiking in the woods, went camping, went hunting, built a fire, or allowed your dog to run through the woods, then it’s possible you came into contact with poison ivy without realizing it.
With any rash, there is the potential for it to spread, be contagious, or be infected, so you should find out if you need treatment from a doctor. It is recommended to seek immediate medical treatment if the inflammation is on your face or genitals, if you inhaled smoke from breathing in burning poison ivy, or if the rash is widespread on your body. According to the CDC, “Burning these poisonous plants can be very dangerous because the allergens can be inhaled, causing lung irritation.” Accidentally inhaling urushiol could cause your throat to close up, making it hard for you to breathe.
Poison ivy can take on many different appearances depending on the time of year you encounter it. Poison ivy’s most distinguishing feature is that it is a plant that has three broad and similar-sized leaves.
Other than that, look for these characteristics:
The best way to avoid getting a poison ivy rash is to keep an eye out for poison ivy plants whenever you are in the wilderness. It’s a good idea to check around your home and your backyard as well.
In addition, whenever you go to the park or any hiking trails, you will want to be on the lookout for this harmless-looking plant. The trouble that most people run into is that they don’t know how to identify it. As the old adage states, “leaves of three, let it be.”
You may not even realize that you have come into contact with poison ivy but seem to have an unexpected rash on your legs, forearms, or hands. At this point, it can be a good idea to review pictures of the poison ivy rash and compare it to the rash that you currently have. Here are sources of some good pictures to compare it to:
Poison ivy will usually go away on its own over a period of about 1 to 3 weeks. Usually, two weeks is a safe bet. The symptoms are typically the worst within the first day or two, and can last up to a week after contact, and will get better after the second week. Resolution will begin with the rash fading, and any blisters will begin to dry up.
To make sure that the rash doesn’t spread or affect other areas of your skin, be sure to wash the clothes you were wearing when you contacted the poison ivy plant immediately. You will also need to shower to clean off any oil that could still be on your skin. Shampoo works better to remove the oil from the skin than soap. There are also over-the-counter soaps designed to remove the oil from poison ivy.
Moving forward, it is vital to take proper precautions since you know that there is poison ivy in your local area. Wear long-sleeve shirts, pants, and gloves when you are doing yard work or are in the wilderness. Washing your clothes, shoes, and gloves when leaving the outdoors will also help you avoid any exposure.
While the rash will usually go away after about two weeks, there are ways to treat a poison ivy rash at home.
If you think you have a rash due to poison ivy and need to confirm, you can use telehealth resources like our affiliated site PlushCare to talk to an online doctor. You can make an appointment and see a licensed doctor in as little as 15 minutes. A doctor will be able to look at your rash via video chat and confirm whether it is poison ivy or not.
PlushCare makes diagnosing quick and easy. If it turns out to be poison ivy, you can get over- the-counter treatments for symptom relief. If it ends up being something more serious, you will know immediately, and doctors will get you the help you need, or refer you to a specialist.
Click here to book an appointment with a doctor.
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