What Happens If You Eat Poison Ivy?

A plant that can cause an extreme or uncomfortable reaction in humans, Poison Ivy is one of three different flora, alongside poison sumac and poison oak, which contain urushiol. This chemical triggers allergic reactions in humans.

What is Poison Ivy?

Poison Ivy is known as a plant that can cause reactions to humans when it is touched, inhaled or otherwise comes into contact with the skin or body. The urushiol chemical within this plant is what results in an allergic response, which can include an itchy rash which can also be painful.

The appearance of Poison Ivy is a woody, vine-like plant with distinctive red leaves. This plant is typical in North America, particularly within woodland, and can be as tall as 1.2 meters. Often, contact with this plant is accidental and is only noticed later.

Exposure to Poison Ivy can be directly from the plant itself, or through items of clothing, equipment and even pets that have come into contact with the plant recently. Urushiol is found in every part of Poison Ivy, from the leaves to the roots.

This plant may also be inhaled if Poison Ivy, or other poison plants, are burned in the immediate area of a person. Inhalation of this chemical can cause exposure and damage to the respiratory systems, such as the nasal passages, lungs, and throat, in addition to exposure to the skin.

Consuming or otherwise ingesting the plant has similar results, with the exposure and damage also including the gastrointestinal system as well as the airways. It has been suggested that consuming this plant may prevent the appearance of symptoms from exposure, but there is little scientific evidence to confirm this.

Symptoms of Poison Ivy

Also known as urushiol-induced contact dermatitis, the rash that Poison Ivy causes on exposure is the result of an allergic reaction to the oil within the plant. Ingestion of Poison Ivy may result in the following symptoms appearing:

  • A strong feeling of itching on the skin
  • Irregular swelling of the skin
  • Redness of the skin
  • Outbreak or large or small blisters in the affected area

The appearance of blisters in or around the mouth may be an indicator that you or your child has consumed Poison Ivy, as this area has come into contact with the urushiol chemical that results in this reaction.

The blisters as result of this condition can vary in appearance, size or scale, depending on the amount of Poison Ivy that comes into contact with the skin, or the person’s individual personal reaction to the plant. The level of blistering and the time the blistering takes to appear can vary depending on a variety of different factors, including:

  • Physical level of exposure
  • The amount of urushiol the skin is exposed to
  • Whether the blisters have spread from existing blisters or rashes
  • Length of time the exposure lasts

The rash caused by Poison Ivy can present in a variety of ways, including but not limited to bumps, lines, streaks, patches and different severities of blisters. Often, Poison Ivy can be spread by contaminated hands to the other parts of the body, which can include the mouth and throat.

Pain, soreness and swelling are common symptoms of internal Poison Ivy reaction, which may be caused by the ingestion or inhalation of urushiol. The scope of internal problems caused by the intake of Poison Ivy varies on a per person basis, but a full diagnosis of internal symptoms will likely require the attention of a doctor or medical professional.

How common are Poison Ivy reactions?

A reaction to urushiol oil, through either Poison Ivy, poison oak or poison sumac, is a highly common allergic response. In North America, around one in four people who come into contact with these plants will experience an allergic reaction or sensitivity when they come into contact with the plant.

The amount of exposure a person has to Poison Ivy can have a direct effect on how much of a response will occur as a result of that contact. There is a marked increase in reported allergic responses to Poison Ivy in the spring and summer when more people are outside. Allergic reactions can begin at any time, no matter if the individual has been in contact with Poison Ivy before with no reaction.

Many more people report a response to Poison Ivy on the skin in comparison to the ingestion or inhalation of the plant. However, because consuming this plant can cause further, prolonged damage in comparison to skin contact, it’s important that a doctor or medical professional is informed as soon as possible.

Treatment of Poison Ivy ingestion

Treatment for Poison Ivy varies depending on the severity and location. For external symptoms, which may occur on the hands or around the mouth if this plant is ingested, treatment may involve ensuring the skin is washed as soon as possible, to make sure that urushiol oil is no longer present on the hands or other body parts that could result in more areas becoming contaminated.

Any clothing or objects that may have been contaminated should also be washed extensively to remove all traces of Poison Ivy. Internal pain or rashes as a result of this chemical requires a visit to a doctor or emergency room to ensure there are no further problems caused by the ingestion.

This should also be the first choice if you or your child is experiencing an extreme allergic reaction, such as having trouble breathing or signs of going into anaphylaxis.

Poison Ivy reactions may also occur as a result of eating food with hands that have been contaminated with urushiol. In this case, it’s important to first treat the hands and clean them thoroughly, including scrubbing under the nails. Following this up with further treatment can help to prevent the chemical from spreading.

Oral antihistamines, or topical creams, can also be used as a way to prevent the symptoms of Poison Ivy reactions, antibiotics may be prescribed should a rash become infected.

Preventing ingestion of Poison Ivy

The primary way to prevent ingestion of Poison Ivy is to avoid contact with the plant altogether. This can be achieved by avoiding areas where this plant and chemical may occur naturally, but in many cases, this may be impossible or inadvisable.

Safely removing or getting rid of this plant in the area around living spaces can further prevent accessibility of Poison Ivy, and make areas safer for children and adults.

One way to help with the avoidance of Poison Ivy is by having a good understanding of what the plant itself looks like. Researching the appearance of the plant can help prevent accidental ingestion of the chemicals that may cause harm to the body. A better understanding of allergic reactions and how their own body reacts to Poison Ivy can further offer insight into what can cause that response in the future.

Finally, preventing Poison Ivy from spreading beyond the initial point of contact, it is important to ensure that any areas of the body are washed thoroughly to ensure that any reaction is contained, including scrubbing or the skin and under nails with soapy water.