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Leaves of Three, Let Them Be: Tips for Preventing and Treating Poison Ivy. By Our June Student Pharmacist, Megan Chaney, Who Suddenly Feels Itchy!

Have you ever wondered: Can I get poison ivy? Not everyone is actually allergic to poison ivy, but up to 85% of Americans are. If you are allergic to poison ivy, there is a good chance you are also allergic to poison oak and poison sumac. All three plants contain the same oil called urushiol (pronounced yoo-ROO-shee-all) which causes you to itch and develop a rash.

There are a few ways you can get poison ivy, such as:

  • Direct contact with the plant.
  • Indirect contact when you touch pets, gardening tools, sports equipment, or other objects that had direct contact with the plant.
  • Airborne contact from burning these plants, which releases urushiol into the air causing the chemical to come in contact with the skin, lungs, or eyes.

After you have come in contact with the oil from the plant, the itchy, blistering rash often does not start until 12 to 72 hours later. The rash itself is not contagious, only the oil from the plant. It might seem to spread, but this is simply a delayed reaction. Scratching the rash doesn’t cause it to spread either, but can cause the skin to take longer to heal and cause additional problems–for example, an infection.

Common symptoms of poison ivy, oak, or sumac include:

  •     Red streaks or patches
  •     Itching/Burning
  •     Rash
  •     Swelling
  •     Blisters that may  leak fluid  and later crust over

Within a week or two most people see the rash begin to clear up. Here are some suggestions to help prevent the spread of the rash, as well as treatment options to help you feel more comfortable until the rash goes away:

  • Immediately rinse your skin with lukewarm, soapy water. Rinsing your skin ensures that you get the oil off of your skin and prevents it from spreading to other areas on your body or even other people.
  • Wash everything that may have the oil on its surface, including things such as gardening tools or pets, to prevent it from spreading.
  • Wash your clothing as soon as possible. The oil can stick to clothing and potentially cause the rash to come in contact with your skin.
  • Leave blisters alone. If blisters open, do not remove the overlying skin, as the skin can protect the raw wound underneath and prevent infection.
  • Take colloidal oatmeal baths to help soothe itching. You can also draw a bath and add one cup of baking soda to the running water for the same results.
  • Apply calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream to skin that itches.
  • Use cool compresses to itchy skin. You can make a cool compress by wetting a clean washcloth with cold water and wringing it out so that it does not drip.
  • Consider taking antihistamine pills such as Benadryl, Zyrtec, Claritin or Allegra. These pills can help lessen itching. Do not apply an antihistamine to your skin because this could potentially make the rash worse.

If you have a serious reaction, you need to see a doctor right away. Signs of serious reaction include:

  • Trouble breathing or swallowing.
  • The rash covers most of your body.
  • Extreme swelling, especially your eyelids.
  • The rash is on your face or genitals.
  • Much of your skin itches or nothing seems to ease the itch.

Stay clear of poison ivy and enjoy your summer!





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