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Poison Ivy Rash
What is a poison ivy rash?
Poison ivy rash is a rash caused by touching the plant called poison ivy. Even touching dry and dead plant can cause rash. However, similar rash can occur after touching poison oak, poison sumac and mango rind among others. Poison ivy plant (and poison oak) characteristic is groups of 3 dark green leaves coming off a single stem. The rash usually occurs within 2 days of touching the plant. You first feel severe itching, then redness and swelling, then blisters. During those two days after touching the plant, and before the rash becomes visible, you can spread the oil of the plant on various parts of your skin without even noticing it, especially on genitalia and eyelids. If left untreated the rash usually clears in 2-3 weeks.
How did I get a poison ivy rash?
You can get this rash if you touched the poison ivy or any other object (clothing, garden tools, golf clubs, and your pet’s fur) that had a little bit of poison ivy plant oil smeared on it. Burning the poison ivy can disperse its oil in the smoke, which then can cause the rash on the skin exposed to the smoke. But if this is the first time ever that you have touched the plant, you will not get any rash, since you first have to become sensitized to it (i.e. your immune system must be previously exposed to it).
How can I treat the rash myself?
First have a good detailed shower to wash off any poison ivy oil off the skin, but be gentle. Some of my patients had great results with Zanfel® Poison Ivy, Oak & Sumac wash. You should also wash any clothing that you had on when you got in touch with poison ivy. Wash your pets as well. If the rash is mild, then you can start over-the-counter hydrocortisone 1% ointment (brand name Cortizone 10) 2-3 times a day. You can soak the area with diluted white vinegar (1 part of white vinegar mixed with 1-2 parts of water, dilute more if it burns and avoid eyes) for 15 minutes twice daily, rinse and apply hydrocortisone ointment while the skin is still wet. The rash should slowly clear within 2-3 weeks, but if your rash is not getting better or if it is severe to start with, then you should see your health care provider. Antihistamines such as Benadryl, Zyrtec, Claritin and Allegra do not help with poison ivy rash.
When should I see my health care provider?
You should see your health care provider if your rash is not getting better with the steps mentioned above, if it is severe to start with, if it involves your face, eyes or genitalia, or if it has signs of infections such as pus, and if you develop fever.
What are prescription treatments for poison ivy rash?
We usually start with a very strong steroid ointment such as clobetasol ointment twice daily for 2-3 weeks, and/or prednisone pill taken by mouth for 2-3 weeks. If it looks infected, we also give antibiotic pill to be taken by mouth for 7 days.
How can I prevent poison ivy rash?
Do not touch poison ivy even when is dried out and dead, and do not burn it. Use vinyl gloves when you have to touch it (rubber and latex are not good protective materials against poison ivy oil). You may try protective barrier creams that have bentoquatam (brand name IvyBlock) applied 15 minutes prior to the exposure to the poison ivy plant. If you have gotten exposed, then you should GENTLY wash the skin with soap and water, preferably within 5 minutes of touching the plant.