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Poison Ivy Rash – Pictures, Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

Updated on November 9, 2013

Poison ivy is a plant which secretes an oily resin known as urushiol. Any contact with this resin can result in the development of a distinctive poison ivy rash. The resin occurs in the roots, stems, and leaves of poison ivy and other plants of the same variety, i.e. poison sumac and poison oak.

One out of every two people who come into contact with poison ivy tend to form an itchy rash. The most deadly form of exposure is inhalation of smoke emitted by burning/burnt poison ivy plants which can affect the lungs.

Minor instances of poison ivy rash do not need any medical treatment. Widespread or serious poison ivy rashes, particularly the ones that affect the genitals and the face, need to be treated with oral corticosteroids for some weeks.

Symptoms of poison ivy rash

Some of the signs and symptoms of a poison ivy rash are listed below:

  • Itchiness
  • Redness
  • Formation of blisters
  • Swelling

The intensity of poison ivy rash is dependent on the quantity of urushiol that comes into contact with the skin. Areas with greater amounts of urushiol may rapidly develop the rash. It is also possible to spread the resin to other regions from contaminated fingers.

The rash typically forms 12 to 48 hours after contact with the resin and generally persists for 2 to 3 weeks.

Poison ivy rash may often appear as a straight line due to the manner in which the skin brushes against the plant. However, contact with urushiol that is present on pet fur or apparels can result in the formation of a rash that is more spread out.

Sometimes, poison ivy rash may appear to be spreading. However, this can occur due to fresh contact with the resin that is present on different surfaces, or it may be a sign that the rash is still developing.

Poison ivy rash is not contagious. It is necessary for the skin to directly come into contact with urushiol for the rash to develop. The rash cannot spread from one person to another via contact, even after exposure to blister fluids. This is because the resin has been already washed off or absorbed into the skin.

Causes of poison ivy rash

Poison ivy rash is caused due to sensitivity to an oily resin known as urushiol which occurs on the stems, leaves, and roots of poison ivy. Urushiol is extremely sticky; hence, it can easily attach to the skin, tools, apparels, or your pet’s fur.

It is possible to develop a poison ivy rash via the following ways:

  • Direct contact with the berries, stems, leaves, or roots of the poison ivy plant.
  • Inhalation of smoke released from burning poison ivy plants can irritate or damage the nasal passageways as well as the lungs.
  • Contact with objects that are contaminated with urushiol. The resin may transfer to your clothing or boots when you walk through areas with poison ivy plants. Urushiol can then transfer from the clothes to the hands and from the hands to other parts of the body. The resin can stay on clothes and other items and cause reactions even several years later upon contact.

Outdoor hobbies and jobs such as farming, firefighting, etc. can increase the risk of contact with poison ivy, which in turn can pose greater vulnerability to poison ivy rash development.

Some individuals can be over-sensitive to the effects of urushiol. Hence, poison ivy rash often tends to predominantly affect people belonging to such families.

Treatment of poison ivy rash

  • Poison ivy rash typically disappears on its own after 2 to 3 weeks. Treatment is usually limited to self-care for alleviation of associated symptoms.
  • Severe and widespread cases of poison ivy rash that are characterized by formation of several blisters may be treated with prescription corticosteroid pills.
  • Scratching the rash to relieve the itching can break the skin and result in a wound. Such wounds are at greater risk to developing secondary infections by bacteria and other germs. Oral antibiotics may be prescribed by the doctor for treating such secondary infections.

Poison ivy rash can cause extreme itchiness, which can be alleviated in the following ways:

  • Use of calamine lotion
  • Application of non-prescription corticosteroid creams during the initial few days
  • Intake of oral antihistamines. This will also allow patients to sleep better
  • Use of moist and cool compresses on the affected sections of the skin for fifteen to thirty minutes, many times per day.
  • Soaking in a cool bath that has oatmeal-bath products can also help ease the itchiness

The development of poison ivy rash can be prevented in the below listed ways:

  • Read about the characteristic features of poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac. Also, check out their pictures. This will help you identify and avoid them when out camping in the outdoors.
  • Identify and remove all such plants growing in your backyard.
  • Urushiol takes some time to enter the skin. Thoroughly washing the affected skin with soap and water, 5 to 10 minutes after contact can often prevent development of the rash.

Poison Ivy Rash Pictures

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