Poison Ivy Symptoms and Treatments


The dreaded poison ivy rash. It’s uncomfortable and itchy and just no fun. Unfortunately, however, about 85 percent of people are allergic to it, with 10 to 15 percent of the population experiencing severe allergic reactions. While the poison ivy rash itself thankfully isn’t contagious, it can be spread by contact with the resin that is present in the plant. In this article, we’ll talk about how you can prevent poison ivy rash, and what you can do to recognize and treat the symptoms should you become affected. 

Prevention of the Poison Ivy Rash

It should come as no surprise that the best way to avoid the poison ivy rash is to never let your skin come in contact with poison ivy in the first place. When you are out in nature, hiking, gardening, or doing anything where you are surrounded by lots of foliage, it’s a good idea to cover up as much as you can to protect your skin from contact. If possible, wear long sleeves, long pants, gloves, and boots. Find some that are breathable, especially if the weather is warm. You may also consider a barrier cream that usually contains an ingredient called bentoquatam.

Learning to spot the poison ivy plant can help you avoid it. Generally speaking, applying the saying, “leaves of three, let it be” can help you steer clear of the plant. There are two varieties of poison ivy. The western variety grows only as a ground vine, while eastern poison ivy can be found as a climbing vine or a shrub. The plant may contain berries or small blossoms and the leaves may be green, red, orange, or yellow, depending on the season.

Poison Ivy

In addition to avoiding skin contact, you should take extra care never to burn the poison ivy plant, as the chemicals produced can cause damage to the lungs, eyes, and mouth. If you encounter the plant in your backyard, safely remove it with a shovel and gloved hands and then promptly place it in a plastic bag before discarding it. Wash any clothing, tools, or gloves that touched the plant.

Symptoms of the Poison Ivy Rash

Despite your best efforts, there still may come a time when you find yourself plagued with the uncomfortable rash that poison ivy causes. Symptoms may appear as soon as 8 to 12 hours after contact, but they can take as long as one to three days to fully manifest.


Here are the main symptoms of the poison ivy rash:

  • Inflammation
  • Itching
  • Small red blisters
  • Red bumps on legs or arms

In severe cases, shortness of breath, a rash around the genitals, and difficulty swallowing may occur. This is evidence of an anaphylactic reaction, requiring immediate emergency medical attention. Call 911 immediately if you have trouble breathing or experience extreme swelling of the face.

Treatment of the Poison Ivy Rash

The first step in effectively treating the poison ivy rash is to clear away the rash-inducing resin as quickly as possible. A resin called urushiol, which is present in poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac, is the reason poison ivy causes a rash. Washing the affected area of your skin with warm water is crucial as soon as you realize contact has occurred. The longer the resin is in contact with your skin, the worse the rash might become.

Treatment of the Poison Ivy Rash

After cleansing the affected area with warm water, rubbing alcohol, or degreasing soap, make sure that you also thoroughly wash any affected clothing and equipment. Urushiol resin can remain on garden tools, clothing, and even on your pets, so washing it away quickly is critical.

After you have removed the resin from your skin, you’ll likely still end up with a rash. Here are the best treatments for the poison ivy rash:

  • Cold compresses
  • A soothing bath with oatmeal
  • Oral antihistamines (can typically be purchased over the counter)
  • Topical creams and ointments
  • Antibiotics if there is infection

It’s extremely important to resist the urge to scratch, as scratching your rash may result in broken skin which could lead to infection and scarring. Soothing topical ointments and dry calamine lotions can help reduce itching and pain.

It’s extremely important to resist the urge to scratch

The Takeaway

The best way to avoid the poison ivy rash is to take preventative measures. If you do come down with the rash, however, it’s usually not too serious. Symptoms will usually disappear within one to three weeks. When going outdoors, take the time to study up, cover up, and clean up so that you can avoid the uncomfortable aftermath that poison ivy causes. Get prepared and keep poison ivy out of your life.