Poison Ivy

Poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac are plants generally found in the wilderness. Poison ivy is more common east of the Rocky Mountains and grows in clusters on vines and shrubs. The leaves of these plants contain a compound or oily secretion called urushiol. Urshiol sticks to anything it comes in contact with and causes a reaction when it comes in contact with your skin and mucous membranes. The skin rash or reaction can spread rather easily and is also referred to as contact dermatitis.

Poison Ivy  Picture

If you are allergic to poison ivy (and more than half the people in the country are), you will soon develop a painful rash after coming in contact with the urushiol oil from the plants. The appearance of poison ivy can vary from region to region. It is therefore very important to educate yourself and your children on how to identify poison ivy so that it can be avoided and the rash prevented.

Symptoms of Poison Ivy

The symptoms of a poison ivy rash depend on the amount of exposure to the plant and the urushiol oil. If your immunity is strong, the reaction may not be as strong either. Common symptoms of poison ivy include:

  • Poison ivy rash develops within a day or two of exposure to the plant. If the contact has been directly with the plant leaves, the severity of the rash is much stronger. There are also cases when the rash develops only a week after the initial exposure. This may cause difficulties in tracing back the cause of the rash to poison ivy especially in cases that involve children.
  • Itchy skin that is prone to inflammation, blisters and redness, is symptomatic of a poison ivy rash. The rash begins as small raised bumps and then develops into full-blown blisters that may ooze liquid and turn crusty.
  • The rash can be found anywhere on the body and generally develops in streaks or straight lines over areas of skin. Different areas of the body can develop a rash at the same time and it feels like the poison ivy infection is spreading all over.
  • Oozing skin
  • Poison ivy rash last for two to three days depending on the severity of the reaction and how much of the skin is affected. Mild cases of poison ivy respond well to home remedies and self-care whereas severe rashes may require immediate medical treatment.

Causes of Poison Ivy

The main cause of poison ivy rash is the oily resin called urushiol secreted by plants such as poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac. Urushiol is found in all parts of the plant and even in plants that are dead. It is very sticky and does not dry easily, thereby increasing the risks of it being spread. You can contract poison ivy rash through direct contact with the leaves, roots, and berries of the plant. The poison can even be spread via clothes or other objects that have touched the plant. Urushiol can survive for years in a dry environment. What this means is that if your clothes are contaminated with the resin, they can cause a rash even years later if you wear them again. If your pet has walked through a cluster of poison ivy plants, he can carry the urushiol oil on his fur and the rash could affect anyone who then comes in contact with the dog. Surprisingly, burning the poison ivy plant can also spread the allergen. The inhaled smoke from burning poison ivy plants can affect the mucus membranes in the eyes and nose and cause a strong reaction as well.

For any nature or wildlife enthusiast, who is just getting acquainted with the outdoors, it may be a good idea to first learn how to identify vegetation like poison ivy and poison oak, so as to avoid any contact with it.

The actual poison ivy rash is not contagious. Unlike the rashes caused by chicken pox or measles, poison ivy blisters cannot spread the infection. Coming in contact with another person who has a poison ivy rash cannot spread the rash either, unless there are still traces of urushiol left on the skin or clothes.

Home Remedies for Poison Ivy

According to the FDA, as soon as you realize that you have been exposed to the poison ivy plant, it is imperative that you clean the affected area with rubbing alcohol. Then wash the skin with plain water. Do not use soap as this can merely spread the urushiol resin around the body and make the rash worse. Later you can take a shower and wash the entire body with water and a mild soap. To ensure that the infection does not spread, wipe everything that you have been wearing including clothes and shoes with rubbing alcohol. The sooner you take action, the less severe your reaction to the poison ivy. In case rubbing alcohol is not available, there are commercially available products such as wipes and scrubs specially created to treat poison ivy that can be used instead. In the absence of access to medical facilities, home remedies can come in quite handy in the treatment of a poison ivy rash:

  • Home remedies for poison ivy rash include applying a cold compress using water or even milk to the affected areas. An oatmeal bath can bring relief against itchy skin and can dry up the oozing blisters as well. If the rash has affected your eyes however, you will need immediate medical attention. You may be prescribed an oral antihistamine to treat poison ivy around the eyes as creams and lotions cannot be used.
  • If the reaction to poison ivy is severe (especially in cases of children), stay calm and visit your emergency room at the earliest. If the person who has been exposed to the poison ivy can swallow, give him an oral antihistamine as soon as possible. If there is difficulty in breathing you may need to use a bronchodilator as prescribed by your doctor. Poison ivy reactions can be severe enough to cause dizziness or a feeling of lightheadedness. If this happens, lie down and raise your legs above the height of your head to increase the blood flow to the brain. An epinephrine injection may be used for allergic reactions that are serious. When visiting your doctor or emergency room make sure you inform the staff of any allergies you have to certain medications.
  • However, these are worst-case scenarios and most of the times, simple home remedies can treat a poison ivy rash. Poison oak treatments and home remedies include applying calamine lotion on the affected area for instant relief from pain and itching. Calcium supplements and foods high in beta-carotene can boost the immune system and help reduce the severity of the rash. Poison ivy home remedies such as making a paste with water and baking soda, oatmeal, cornstarch or Epsom salts can reduce the blistering and swelling and prevent the rash from spreading.
  • Other home remedies for poison ivy itch includes applying watermelon rind on the rash or aloe vera juice. These dry out the area and reduce the rash immediately as well.

Home remedies and treatment for poison ivy are generally targeted towards providing relief for symptoms such as itching and pain. Unfortunately the rash and blisters cannot be eliminated completely and the infection has to run its normal course. If you scratch the blisters you could also cause a secondary infection to set in that may be more painful than the poison ivy rash itself. Rubbing the affected areas with banana peel can offer quick relief from itching and pain if done regularly. Burdock root tea is an effective herbal treatment for poison ivy rash. This tea can be drunk or even applied to the rash to dry it up.

Diet for Poison Ivy

There is no specific diet for poison ivy but there are certain foods that can help reduce the rash that occurs. Foods high in vitamin C, zinc, calcium, and beta-carotene can boost the immune system, reduce the skin inflammation and prevent the spreading of the rash. Zinc especially helps repair skin tissue and promotes healthy skin post the infection.

Suggestion for Poison Ivy

The simplest way to prevent a poison ivy reaction and rash is to avoid contact with the plant. Educate yourself about what poison ivy looks like in your area and how it may change in appearance from season to season. If you are walking through the wilderness where poison ivy is found make sure you wear clothes that cover your skin such as long sleeved shirts and even gloves. Before you walk in any infected areas, you can apply a product or lotion such as Ivy block that prevents the urushiol from contacting the skin directly.


  1. http://www.fcps.edu/islandcreekes/ecology/poison_ivy.htm
  2. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/poisonivyoakandsumac.html#cat5

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18 Poison Ivy remedies suggested by our users
poisin ivy
suggested by [unspecified] on Saturday, June 14, 2008

The best way I have found for the itchy reaction is to take a hot shower as hot as you can handle it .the itch goes away after a couple of minutes. Lye soap always helps to remove all urishoil .can be used everywhere on body. If you want store bought remedies get benadryl. Hot shower gives relief for 6-8 hours of the itch ...don't scratch

lead weight
suggested by [unspecified] on Tuesday, May 20, 2008

I am not allergic but my co-worker is. He said an old man in the woods told him to wear lead weights (for fishing) around his neck to prevent from getting poison ivy. He said it’s the weirdest things he's heard but it actually worked. Worth a try.

Noni for itch
suggested by Cheryl on Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Noni works for this one also. I get poison ivy pretty bad and used to take shots for it. Now when I break out in a rash I take my all natural noni juice, shake the bottle real good, then pour some onto the rash. It does not get rid of the poison ivy but it will take away the itching for 12 hours straight! I had poison ivy on my foot and blisters between my toes. I shook the noni, rubbed it on the rash put my socks and shoes on and went to work. I never itched until almost bedtime that night. I did this for seven days until the rash cleared up.

lime's disease
suggested by teresa on Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Cat's claw is sold in any cvs, walmart any pharmacy. Follow the directions on the bottle and don't despair because it takes about three months to cure, but you'll get rid of it for good.

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