Identifying and Treating Poison Ivy

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Identifying and Treating Poison Ivy


Identifying and Treating Poison Ivy

When it comes to allergic reactions and rash, the poison ivy plant is among the most common culprits found in nature. Coming into contact with the plant’s oily resin can lead to a mild, moderate or severe rash. The symptoms of a poison ivy rash can be itchy and annoying to deal with.

Fortunately, you and your family can reduce your chances of suffering from poison ivy no matter how much time you spend outside, so long as you know what to watch out for.

What is Poison Ivy and How Can It Be Identified?

Poison ivy is a plant with toxic properties which grows in abundance throughout the majority of the United States; it is very prevalent in wooded, backyard and even urban environments in New England. The plant typically grows low to the ground and features three distinct leaves, which change color as seasons transition. Poison ivy may resemble a shrub— it may even flower or grow berries depending upon the circumstances.

When people talk about “getting poison ivy,” it’s usually in reference to contact dermatitis (or rash) which results from coming into contact with the plant; specifically, an oil found in the ivy called urushiol, which most people are allergic to. Simply touching the poison ivy plant, or even touching clothing that has come in contact with it, is enough to develop a rash. Breathing in smoke from burned poison ivy is especially problematic, as it can cause significant damage to the lungs and airway.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Poison Ivy?

The most common symptom associated with exposure to poison ivy is rash, which may range in severity depending upon body chemistry and extent of exposure to the plant’s toxic oils. Classic symptoms of poison ivy include the following:

  • Rash and thin red streaking at contact points
  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Blistering
  • Itching

If the smoke from poison ivy is inhaled, difficulty breathing may result. This may be the sign of a medical emergency, in which case treatment should be sought immediately.

Diagnosing and Treating Poison Ivy

Poison ivy rash is very common and easily recognizable by urgent care treating providers. A physical/visual exam is usually enough to assess the extent of a rash caused by poison ivy, and in many cases, treatment will include applying calamine lotion and soaking in cool-water baths (optionally containing oatmeal-based products) to help alleviate itching while the rash begins to clear up.

In the case of rashes that are widespread or have extensive blistering, an oral corticosteroid and/or antibiotics may be prescribed to promote healing and prevent infection.

Tips for Preventing Exposure to Poison Ivy

The best way to avoid exposure to poison ivy is to stay out of wooded areas. However, even this isn’t necessarily enough protection—the plant grows fervently in backyards and even in some urban environments.  Here are some tips to reduce your chances of exposure and keep poison ivy rash at bay:

  1. Know how to spot poison ivy. The plant features three pointed leaves with either smooth or notched edges, and is usually green during summer and reddish-yellow in color throughout the fall months.
  2. Wear protective clothing. Long-sleeved shirts and pants are ideal, as are gloves if you’ll be traveling through thick wooded areas.
  3. Wash outdoor clothing regularly. If you even think you may have encountered poison ivy, be sure to give your clothes a wash—the oils can transfer from fabric to human skin and cause rash very easily.
  4. Don’t scratch! If you do end up with a poison ivy rash, avoid scratching it even if it’s very itchy, as scratching can lead to infection.

Get Treated for Poison Ivy Today at ConvenientMD!

Dealing with a poison ivy rash is no picnic, and depending upon the severity, it can be downright miserable. At ConvenientMD, we treat poison ivy every day at our clinics throughout Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Think you or a family member may have come into contact with poison ivy? Stop into any of our locations from 8am to 8pm without ever needing to make an appointment.

If you find yourself spending a lot of time outdoors this summer and fall, be sure to keep an open, focused eye on your surroundings—it’s the most effective way to avoid unwanted contact with poison ivy.