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What You Need to Know About Poison Ivy Rash and How to Treat It

poison ivy on tree
May 24, 2023

Summer is here, which means rash season is affecting how many people enjoy the great outdoors. Poisonous plants are some of the most common culprits of itchy, red, and irritated skin, especially for gardeners, landscapers, and hikers. Here’s what you need to know about poison ivy rash and how to treat it:

How to Identify Poisonous Plants

poison ivy plant

Poison ivy, oak, and sumac each have a distinct look and can be easily identified. Poison ivy has 3 leaflets on each leaf and can grow as a vine or bush. The leaves can change color from green to yellow to orange or red during the fall season, and some poison ivy shrubs can have white berries. Poison oak also has 3 leaflets on each leaf but with more rounded tips and has a slightly darker and shinier texture than poison ivy. It also grows either as a vine or shrub which can also have white or yellow berries. Finally, poison sumac grows in clusters of 7 or 13 leaflets and is more of a tree-like structure that can grow up to 20 feet! Poisonous sumacs will have light yellow, cream, or green berries; however, there is a nonpoisonous sumac variety that has red berries. All of these plants produce an oil called urushiol, and even the smallest amount (less than a grain of salt) can cause an itchy and uncomfortable rash.

How to Prevent Poison Ivy Rash

The poisonous oil that these plants release when rubbed, crushed, or burned is easily transferable to the skin, clothing, shoes, and other surfaces. So the most important prevention of poison ivy rash is simply to identify the plant and stay away from it. Remember the helpful saying, “leaves of three, let them be” and avoid them! When working outside in a garden or landscaping, be sure to wear gloves and other protective clothing, avoid touching your face, and take a shower and wash your clothing and tools as well to prevent contact with any poisonous plant oils.

How to Treat Poison Ivy Rash

poison ivy rash

The main symptoms of a poison ivy, oak, or sumac rash are red and swollen bumps, blisters, and itchiness which usually begin to subside within a couple of weeks. Unfortunately, there is no way to clear up this type of rash in a day, but here are some ways you can treat it at home:

  • Avoid scratching or touching the blisters: it’s incredibly difficult not to scratch; however, it’s important not to since it can quickly lead to an infection.
  • Apply a cold compress or take lukewarm showers or baths: a cool compress can temporarily relieve spots that are particularly uncomfortable, and you can also try adding colloidal oatmeal or baking soda to a bath to soothe itchiness.
  • Use anti-itch creams and antihistamines: over-the-counter calamine lotion or hydrocortisone creams are helpful for providing calming and soothing relief for irritated skin and medications such as Benadryl® can also be effective.

If your poison ivy rash doesn’t improve within a few days, it’s time to contact your healthcare provider. They can provide prescription-strength steroids to help clear up your skin. At our local pharmacy, we can help you find anti-itch creams and answer any questions you may have about your skin, along with offering custom topical medications with different ingredients, such as calamine lotion and corticosteroids. Stop by or reach out to us anytime you need our assistance!