A Poison Ivy Rash is a dermatological condition that occurs when the person comes into direct contact with the poison ivy plant (or they come into direct contact with a person or object that has touched poison ivy) or inhales particles of the plant when it is burned. Poison ivy can grow as either a small shrub or a trailing vine depending on the area of the country in which it is found.
The rash that develops when a person comes into contact with the poison ivy plant is actually due to an allergic reaction to a specific substance found in the leaves of the plant as well as the stems and roots. This substance is known as urushiol and it is an oily resin.
The poison ivy rash that a person develops when they come into contact with urushiol can vary from person to person. Some people have a much stronger allergic reaction than others. The area of the body exposed, the duration of the exposure, and whether or not the person washes themselves off immediately after the fact and changes clothes to prevent further exposure.
Poison ivy rashes can cause severe and intense itching and burning pain. If a person is highly sensitive to urushiol, the symptoms may begin more quickly after coming into contact with the poison ivy plant. However, the rash usually appears and symptoms develop between 12 and 48 hours after the initial exposure.
The rash will often occur in a straight line but can also be more spread out as well. Redness, swelling, and blistering can occur. In severe cases, the blisters may ooze pus, or the person may develop a fever. If poison ivy is inhaled, a person may experience extreme difficulty breathing which requires swift medical care.
Poison ivy rash is caused by an allergic reaction to urushiol, an oily resin. Urushiol is found in poison ivy roots, leaves and stems, and also those of poison sumac and poison oak.
There are several common ways that people can come into contact with urushiol. They can directly touch the plant. The plants are very common in many parts of the world and if a person is walking through or working in the woods it’s very easy to accidentally brush up against it.
Another common way to come into contact with the oil is by touching a contaminated object. The oil will easily transfer to nearly anything it touches including shoes, clothing, tools, and pet fur. The urushiol can even cause a reaction years after it initially contaminated the object.
When poison ivy is burnt, the smoke still contains urushiol, and inhaling it can cause irritation and damage to the nasal passages and the lungs.
Fortunately, unlike some other types of rashes, the fluid from the blisters contains no urushiol and, therefore, will not cause a reaction.
The treatment for a poison ivy rash depends on how severe it is. The majority of rashes can resolve with minimal treatment and self-care. Washing the skin that was exposed to poison ivy and removing and washing clothing can help to prevent the worsening and the spread of the rash. Over-the-counter antihistamine medications can help reduce the severity of the symptoms and lessen the immune system response to exposure as well. When the rash covers a large area of the body or a person has numerous blisters, prescription corticosteroids can also help to reduce inflammation and clear up the skin rash.
Poison ivy rash is prevented primarily though preventing exposure to the oil. Learning to identify the plant is the best way to avoid it. Poison ivy is a plant with one large leaf coming off the end and two slightly smaller leaves to the side. The leaves can have notches on the edge, or be smooth, making somewhat hard to identify. It’s generally best to just avoid all plants with that leaf pattern, as poison oak also shares the same pattern.
If you’re walking through or working in wooded areas, you can ensure all skin is covered by clothes to help prevent exposure. Be sure to wash the clothing after you have finished wearing it, as it may have been contaminated.
If you find the plants in your yard you can remove them with herbicide or by pulling them out by the roots. Be sure to wear gloves and carefully wash them and your hands after you’re finished. Never burn poison ivy to dispose of it.
Be sure to carefully wash any objects you suspect may have come in contact with poison ivy. These include clothes, tools, and even your pets.
There are also barrier creams available over the counter that you can apply to your skin to create a barrier that will catch the resin and prevent it from causing the reaction.