Pets don’t usually get a reaction to urushiol because their fur protects the skin from contact. Your dog can transfer the oil onto you, however, so Fido will need a bath if he’s been rummaging around in the poison ivy bush. After you bathe the dog, bathe yourself.
One more thing: you can’t catch a poison ivy reaction. Once the oil is gone, the threat is gone. The reaction is an allergy to the oil. The irritation, itching, and rash are not contagious. Some folks say you have about 30 minutes to wash up after an exposure to avoid the reaction.
Besides avoiding it completely (learn to recognize the version of poison ivy, oak or sumac that grows where you live), the best prevention is to cover your skin. It doesn’t take much of the urushiol to cause itching and blisters; in fact, you only need to brush up against the plant to get a reaction.
By covering your skin, you lessen the risk of exposure. However, you must wash clothing after contact with the plant, or you run the risk of secondary exposure to the oil. It also doesn’t take much urushiol to cause irritation, and it can be spread from clothing to skin (even clothing to furniture to the skin).
Poison sumac grows in the swamps and wetlands of the northeastern, midwestern, and southeastern United States. and doesn’t follow the “leaves of three” rule that helps identify poison ivy and poison oak. Each leaf contains clusters of 7-13 leaflets. Poison Sumac’s color varies based on the season – it will be orange in the spring, green in the summer, and yellow or red in the fall. It may have yellow-greenish flowers and whitish-green fruits that hang in loose clusters.
Poison sumac grows as a shrub or a small tree. This variety produces the most urushiol in all parts of the plant, not just the leaves. Harmless sumacs contain clusters of red berries.
Poison oak is found on the West Coast and in the southeastern U.S. Poison ivy is found pretty much everywhere except Hawaii, Alaska, and parts of the west coast. Both of these come in a few different varieties and can grow as shrubs or vines. They typically like sunshine.
There is an old rhyme that helps identify these pesky plants: “Leaves of three, let it be!”
Look for the combination of three leaves shown in these pictures. Poison oak will sometimes have a reddish coloration, either on the edges of the leaf or throughout the whole thing. They might have little yellow or white berries.
The good news is: the rash and itching will go away without any treatment. The bad news is: it will probably take a couple of weeks for it to go away. Treatment of poison ivy, oak, and sumac are all about comfort. You want to relieve the itching and inflammation.
Call 911 if you have any trouble breathing. This is especially true if you inhale smoke from burning poison ivy.
Call the doctor if the rash is on or around your eyes, covers a large part of your body, or seems to be infected (fever, swelling or oozing).
Here are tips to relieve the itching and rash. Some of these work better than others, so it’s really a personal choice, and maybe a little trial and error:
Cold compresses on the rash for 15-20 minutes, several times per day. Don’t put ice directly on the skin or leave cold packs on for too long: you can get frostbite from a cold pack if you’re not careful.
Use calamine lotion, topical antihistamine or hydrocortisone cream to reduce itching.
Taking oral antihistamines such as Benedryl (diphenhydramine) should help reduce itching.
Here are some home remedies and alternative medicine treatments that might help with the itching:
Baking soda and colloidal oatmeal are protectants that relieve minor skin irritation and itching.
Aloe vera applied directly to the rash. If you have a plant, cut it open and rub the slippery part right on the skin. You can also try topical products with aloe included.
Take a cool bath.
Prevention is the best treatment for poison ivy. Knowledge is power. The way to prevent poison ivy, oak or sumac is to know what you’re looking for and how to avoid it.
Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac all have a chemical irritant called urushiol that’s secreted from the leaves or stalks. Most of us are allergic and react to urushiol with itching and a rash.
When it comes to poison ivy or poison oak, prevention is really the best medicine. However, my gut tells me you probably didn’t look this up to see how to avoid poison ivy as much as how to treat it, so let’s start there.
Clearly, the best way to avoid poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac is to know what the plants look like and to steer well of them. Beyond that, there are a few handy tips you should remember if you live in an area where the plants are endemic:
Clothing serves as the most effective barrier. Wear pants, socks, and boots if plants are known to grow in areas of heavy brush. If contact occurs, removed your clothes carefully and launder immediately.
Use vinyl gloves when pulling weeds. Urushiol can penetrate rubber gloves.
A lotion containing 5% quaternium-18 bentonite (IvyBlock) can be applied to the skin and provide protection for up to eight hours. It must be washed off before reapplying.
Despite popular beliefs, you cannot desensitize yourself to poison ivy by chewing leaves or being injected with commercially prepared extracts.
Poison ivy mostly occurs on exposed areas on the arms, legs, and face. The intensity of the rash can vary based on the person’s sensitivity to the resin, as well as the amount and/or extent of exposure.
There are several ways to treat the rash:
Wash the skin with soap and water to inactivate and remove the resin. Washing is most effective if it is done within 15 minutes of exposure.
Cold, wet compresses are effective in the early stages. They should be applied for 15 to 30 minutes several times a day for the first three days.
Steroid creams or ointments can be helpful in reducing the inflammation and itching. Hydrocortisone can be used on the face; a stronger, prescription-strength steroid may be needed for the arms or legs.
Oral steroids may be required for severe cases and must be taken for at least a week.
Short, cool tub baths with colloidal oatmeal can be soothing and can help control inflammation.
Calamine lotion can help control itching, although excessive use can dry the skin and cause even more inflammation.
Antihistamines such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) that are sedating may help encourage sleep, but won’t generally help itching. This is because the source of the itching in Rhus dermatitis is not primarily caused by histamine, but by white blood cell (lymphocytes) infiltration into the skin.
Any exposure to the eyes or eyelids, or the development of a honey-colored crust, should be evaluated by a doctor.
Poison ivy occurs when a person comes into contact with the leaf and/or internal parts of the stem or root. The rash typically develops within 24 to 48 hours of exposure, though it can develop sooner. It usually appears in a linear or circular pattern with itchy red blotches. Rhus dermatitisis incredibly itchy, to the point that the victim may scratch the skin to the point of bleeding.
The resin itself can be active for years following exposure (meaning that it can be spread to others who come into contact with the clothing of an affected individual). By contrast, the fluid from the blisters cannot spread the rash.
If untreated, the rash usually heals in around three weeks.