young family avoiding poison ivy while hiking in the woods

HEAL

One of summer's bummers: Poison ivy

A quick way to cut a camping trip short is to come in contact with poison ivy, oak or sumac. These three relatives have an irritating trait in common: urushiol. Urushiol is the oily chemical that plants carry, causing painful rashes, blisters and bumps with an agonizing itch. 

Your best defense? Avoidance. Make sure you, family members and children are all aware of what to look for and steer clear. "Leaves of three, let it be" is a common rhyme to remember poison ivy's appearance. 

Symptoms of poison ivy

Symptoms of poison ivy rash might not crop up right away, and it may take between 12 and 72 hours to experience a reaction. 

The most common symptoms are:

  • A red rash or red streaks
  • Bumps and blisters that may ooze
  • Swelling
  • Itching

Poison ivy is contagious, but not the rash it causes

Urushiol can easily transfer to clothing and objects. Poison ivy, oak or sumac could've brushed up against a pant leg or dog leash, so take extra precaution with items that may have been exposed. Up to 85 percent of people have an allergic reaction from exposure, so if it's gotten on your skin, immediately wash with a soap like Dawn and lukewarm water or rubbing alcohol within 30 minutes. Hot water will open your pores, allowing the urushiol to spread.

Heal_leaves_of_three

Put on rubber gloves and toss potentially exposed clothes into the wash machine with the hottest water and longest cycle possible. Urushiol can be potent years later, so jackets, shoes, gardening tools and tent stakes should be washed sooner than later to prevent future spread. Same goes for your pet; using rubber gloves, wash your pet as you typically would, and toss the towels you dried Fido with into the washing machine.

Fortunately, you cannot spread the rash to anyone else. Only people who have come in direct contact with urushiol will experience the reaction.

Treatment for poison ivy rash

A rash caused by urushiol will usually last one to three weeks. Often, the rash goes away on its own, but you can use these to calm the itching:

  • calamine lotion
  • hydrocortisone cream
  • cold compresses

Serious reactions will benefit from a prescription, like a steroid ointment. Prescription treatment for poison ivy rash can usually be obtained from an online visit, like Allina Health Everyday Online. This is especially convenient if symptoms start while you're away from home, after clinic hours or over the weekend, since online visits have 24-hour access.

There is no doubt about it, you're going to be miserable. Try not to scratch, and remember for next time: "Leaves of three, let it be."

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