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Posts Tagged ‘Poison Ivy’

Poison Ivy 101: Identifying, Treating, and Preventing Rashes in Central Ohio. By Our Student Pharmacist, Lee Zimmer.

Today we’re taking on a plant that can really get under our skin (both literally and figuratively): poison ivy.

Understanding how to identify, treat, and prevent poison ivy rashes can be essential for enjoying the outdoors safely. While poison ivy does have relatives called poison oak and poison sumac that cause similar symptoms, poison ivy is, by far, the one you encounter the most in Ohio.

So let’s jump into Poison Ivy 101, equipping you with the knowledge you need to navigate this common nuisance.

  • Recognizing Poison Ivy: Leaves of Three, Let It Be

At some point in your life someone told you the phrase “Leaves of three, let it be,” but what does that mean, and how do you identify poison ivy when everything is green and leafy right now? Well, take a moment to really focus on the greenery around you and look for poison ivy’s distinctive features, such as leaves grouped in threes, pointed tips, and serrated edges. Poison ivy can grow as a low shrub trailing along the ground or can form hairy vines and climb basically anything vertical.

Poison Ivy #1

  • The Itch Factor: Understanding the Urushiol Reaction

Poison ivy causes itching, redness, and inflammation due to an oily resin called urushiol found in its leaves, stems, and roots. Yes, that means that poison ivy can cause an itchy rash any time during the year.  You can pick up urushiol by disturbing any part of the plant itself, but also indirectly from clothing, pets, or garden tools that have contacted the plant. Unfortunately, urushiol can linger for a long time on surfaces until it is washed off; soap and water works great.

Poison Ivy #2

  • Prevention is Key: Minimizing Contact with Poison Ivy

Preventing poison ivy rashes starts with avoiding contact altogether. A great first step to  protect yourself is wearing long sleeves, pants, and closed-toe shoes when venturing into areas where poison ivy may be present. Other options, like barrier creams and washes, can provide an additional layer of defense, but are certainly not foolproof and often require reapplication.

  • Post-Exposure Measures: Minimizing the Risk of Rash

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, we may still come into contact with poison ivy. Urushiol can absorb at different rates, from minutes to hours, so acting quickly to wash the area with soap and water can help reduce your risk of developing a reaction. Pay special attention to clean under your fingernails, as you could have urushiol stuck under them and you are one itch away from spreading the fun somewhere else. Also be sure to launder exposed clothing promptly.

To emphasize – Your poison ivy rash isn’t spreading; you either absorbed the urushiol at different rates or didn’t wash it off yourself or items you touched – and then touched them again.

  • Soothing the Itch: Remedies for Poison Ivy Rash

If a rash develops, there are several options for symptom relief. Discuss with your pharmacist over-the-counter remedies such as witch hazel, hydrocortisone cream, or oral antihistamines to alleviate itching and reduce inflammation.

Home remedies like cool compresses or aloe vera gel may also sooth the itch, but the effects are limited.

Try to discourage itching as much as possible as itching can break the skin and increase the risk of developing an infection.

Poison Ivy #3

  • When to Seek Medical Attention: Recognizing Severe Reactions

Most poison ivy rashes can be managed at home, but some cases may require medical attention.

Signs of a severe reaction include:

  • widespread rash
  • swelling
  • difficulty breathing
  • signs of infection at a rash site

These symptoms are all cause for concern and warrant a trip to your doctor or local emergency room.

Navigating the presence of poison ivy in central Ohio requires awareness and precaution. By familiarizing yourself with the characteristics of poison ivy, adopting preventive measures, and knowing how to treat rashes, you can enjoy the outdoors safely and confidently.

Remember, prevention is key, but in case of exposure, prompt action and appropriate remedies can ease discomfort. Stay vigilant, educate others, and let your adventures in nature be free from the itch of poison ivy rashes.

Poison Ivy Dos and Don’ts. By Our August Student Pharmacist, Mackenzie Gill.

Poison Ivy Pic 1

Summer may be winding down but that doesn’t mean poison ivy has!

The rash commonly associated with poison ivy is caused by an allergic reaction to an oily resin called urushiol. This oil is in the leaves, stems, and roots of poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac and is VERY easily spread. The oil causes redness and swelling followed by blisters and severe itching. This reaction typically develops 12 to 48 hours after exposure and lasts two to three weeks.

Prevention is key, and can eliminate weeks of scratching and irritation. It is recommended to wear protective clothing and apply a barrier cream when going outside into weedy areas.

Prevention may be preferred, but it is not always possible. So if the damage has been done, and now you or your children have the itchy rash, what can you do?


  • Do wash your skin within 30 minutes of exposure. This can eliminate or reduce the size of the rash.
  • Do use over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream. This will help alleviate the itchiness and redness. One important note is that hydrocortisone should not be used for more than 7 days without speaking to your doctor.
  • Do use calamine lotion. This will also help with itchiness and can dry out the blisters formed.
  • Do wash your clothes to remove any resin that may be on them.
  • Do consider taking the ORAL antihistamine Benadryl at bedtime. This is strictly to help you sleep at night, as Benadryl makes you drowsy. Antihistamines do not help the itchiness caused by poison ivy.
  • Do apply a cool compress.


  • Don’t scratch! I know this is hard, but scratching can cause infection and make things much worse.
  • Don’t pick at blisters. Again, this can cause infection.
  • Don’t apply TOPICAL antihistamines as these can worsen the rash and itch.

Poison Ivy Pic 3

One common myth about poison ivy is that the blister fluid can spread the rash. This is not true! Your skin must come in direct contact with the plant’s oil to be affected. But as stated earlier, the oil can be spread VERY easily, so even if you do not touch the plant directly, the oil from the plant can contaminate shoes, tools, clothes, and even pet fur! If these objects aren’t cleaned, the oil on them can still cause a skin reaction years later.

If your rash is severe or widespread, you develop a fever, or the blisters are oozing pus, you should see your doctor for further treatment. As always, if you have any further questions, Plain City Druggist is more than happy to help!

Poison Ivy Pic 2

Poison Ivy and Sumac Rash Prevention and Treatment. By Our July Student Pharmacist, Calvin Chan.

poison ivy rash2

Did you know that almost 85% of people are allergic to poison ivy and it’s two cousins, poison sumac and oak (the last one is not found in Ohio)? I am sure that many of you have either seen or experienced the nasty rashes that are associated with poison ivy. What you may not know is that it is not the actual plants themselves that cause the allergic reaction/rash, but rather a substance produced by them called “urushiol oil.”

The urushiol oil is tenacious–it can stick to your skin, clothes, tools, pets’ fur and spread to pretty much everything it comes into contact with until it is washed off. Even in the winter when the plants have died, the urushiol can still be on them ready to cause unsuspecting visitors some itchy misery. The spread of urushiol is also how people commonly find rashes in places that were never exposed to the plant, because it was unknowingly stuck onto their clothes or other body parts.

So what are the best ways to not only prevent, but also treat poison ivy rashes?

Poison Ivy_Oak_Sumac


The best way to prevent the rashes is to avoid contact in the first place, which can be easy with the following steps:

  1. Learn the plants’ appearances with simple phrases:
    1. “Leaves of three, let it be” – A classic phrase that describes how three leaves will often sprout from a single stem of poison ivy.
    2. “Don’t be a dope and touch the hairy rope” – A useful way to spot the plants in the winter especially since the “hairy”-looking vines will still be present.
    3. “Berries white, run in fright” – For the telltale white berry-like fruits of poison ivy.
    4. “Leaves shaped like mittens will itch like the dickens” – The leaves of the plant will often look like they have a thumb coming off of them
  2. Wear long sleeved shirts and pants when hiking or exploring areas with possible poison ivy.
  3. If you believe you have touched the plants by accident, wash any areas immediately to prevent the urushiol from spreading further.
  4. Remove the plants by pulling them up by the root, using an herbicide or boiling hot water.
    1. DO NOT BURN the plants due to the risk of breathing in the urushiol.
    2. Handle the plants using VINYL GLOVES, because urushiol can penetrate other materials.


If you have a moderate-to-severe rash that covers more than 20-25% of your body, it is highly recommended to seek medical attention. For mild, small rashes there are several great over-the-counter options:

Chan Chrat

I hope this has been helpful in allowing you to navigate and work in the outdoors a little more safely this summer. As always, if you ever have any more questions, your local pharmacist at Plain City Druggist will always be willing to help!


Pharmacist’s Letter

American Academy of Dermatology

Pesky Poison Ivy: Recognition, Prevention, and Treatment. By Our June Student Pharmacist, Rebecca Rady.


As we move into June, it’s official that the summer weather is here to stay! With the beautiful sun and warmer temperatures, many of us will find ourselves spending a lot more time outside in nature. Poison ivy and oak plants have their peak flowering season in central Ohio from May-July, so we wanted to give some handy tips on how to prevent, treat, and remove poison ivy should you come into contact with this irritating plant as you enjoy the outdoors.

Recognize Poison Ivy

The most important step in preventing poison ivy is knowing what the plant looks like and then, subsequently, avoiding it. There are many folk rhymes out there to help identify poisonous plants with the easiest being: “leaves of three, stay away from me” or “leaves of three, let them be.”

Poison I-V-Y and poison O-A-K plants each have three letter names, as well as poisonous leaves that are bunched in groups of three. If you come across any unfamiliar plant with a branch of three leaves….stay away!

Poison ivy plants have oil on their leaves that can cause dermatitis (an itchy rash) when it comes in contact with human skin. Some people are more sensitive to the plant oil than others. If two people touch the same plant, one person may get a widespread rash and another person may be completely unaffected.

Poison ivy rashes are usually red with white vesicles/blisters containing clear liquid and they are most well known for being extremely ITCHY. Rashes often appear in straight lines from where the poison ivy plant brushed up against the skin, but they can also be very widespread if the oil gets rubbed around the skin surface before thoroughly cleansing.

A common misconception about poison ivy is that the rash is contagious. The rash can NOT be transmitted from person to person and the rash can NOT “spread” once the oil is completely removed from the skin. A rash on the body only appears where the plant oil has come in contact with skin.

Treating Poison Ivy

If you come in contact with a poison ivy plant, the first step is to remove the oil from your skin. Wash any skin that comes in contact with the plant with cool water and a mild cleanser, such as Dawn, Cetaphil, or IvyCleanse. You can rinse the skin under water or rub lightly with a paper towel (throw away the towel after cleansing).

If a rash develops, it will be extremely itchy but it is important to try not to scratch. Scratching can break the skin and increase your risk for the rash to become infected by bacteria. To help ease a rash that is itching, you can put on a topical steroid cream or ointment such as Hydrocortisone 1%. To use this product, a thin film can be applied 2 to 4 times daily and the area should remain uncovered. This is a good product to use if you get a rash on your arms or legs, but hydrocortisone should be avoided under areas of tight clothing. Topical antihistamine creams (such as Benadryl cream or diphenhydramine cream) should be avoided on poison ivy rashes, because these products can sometimes cause additional skin irritation. You can always ask your pharmacist for help choosing the right product in the store or call and ask for advice on how to use the medication.

If the rash has vesicles or blisters that are leaking clear fluid, an astringent (like witch hazel or Burow’s solution) can be used to help dry out the area. As long as the rash is oozing, ointments should be avoided but steroid CREAMS can still be used on an oozing rash.

Skin protectant products (such as calamine lotion or colloidal oatmeal) are not very effective at preventing the rash from itching, they can be used to help soothe the skin and provide a barrier between the rash and the environment.

If you ever feel that a poison ivy rash is severe (interferes with daily activities, rash is spreading rapidly, rash covers over >25% of body) or involves mucous membranes such as eyes or mouth, seek medical attention from a doctor, nurse, or pharmacist. A severe rash may require a prescription strength topical product and/or an oral medication.


Getting Rid of Poison Ivy

If you find a poison ivy plant and want to get rid of it, it is important to take appropriate precautions to avoid contact with skin. To prevent the oil from touching your skin, wear long pants and sleeves as well as heavy-duty vinyl gloves because the plant oil can penetrate rubber gloves. In order to prevent the plant from growing back, pull up the plant from the roots and dispose of it inside of a garbage bag to prevent the oils from contaminating other surfaces.

If you would like to kill the plant before removal, you can pour boiling water over the plant or use a herbicide such as RoundUp. After the plant is dead, the oils may still be present, so you should continue to use a barrier between your skin and the plant. NEVER burn poison ivy in order to kill the plant. The irritating oils can become an aerosol, which can be extremely dangerous if inhaled.

Points to Remember

  • Avoid coming into contact with poison ivy plants: “Leaves of three, stay away from me.”
  • The poison ivy rash can NOT be transmitted from person-to-person once the oil is removed from the skin.
  • There are many pharmaceutical products available to treat poison ivy rash including:
    • Hydrocortisone cream is the best and safest OTC product for itching.
    • Ointments, astringents, and skin protectants can also be used.
    • Ask your pharmacist for help selecting a product!
  • If a poison ivy rash is severe, the patient should seek medical attention.
  • Never burn poison ivy when trying to eradicate the plant, as it can become an aerosol that can then be inhaled.



Recognizing “Rash” Behavior: What You Need to Know About Poison Ivy and Poison Sumac. By Our July Student Pharmacist, Rich Downs.


The weather lately may make you think differently, but summer is the time to be outside here in Ohio. We all like to get out and do some of our favorite summer activities such as fishing, hiking, tending the garden, playing sports, and doing yard work. While these activities are fun, they can put us at risk for encountering two unfriendly species of plants: poison ivy and poison sumac.

Here is what you need to know to avoid and to treat exposure to these plants.

Poison ivy is found throughout the continental United States, except for the desert. It usually grows as a vine or a small shrub, presenting as a cluster of three leaves. These leaves can vary in color and texture depending on the time of year. The leaves can be green, yellow, and even purple, usually with a sheen on the top of the leaf.

Poison sumac tends to grow in wet areas in the eastern United States. It usually grows as a small shrub or tree. Unlike poison ivy, poison sumac presents as a red branch with seven to thirteen leaves paired at the branch. The leaves are usually green, but they change color like the leaves on other trees.


Both of these plants contain the same rash-causing toxin called urushiol. This toxin produces an allergic contact dermatitis when skin is exposed to it. Coming into contact with any part of the plant puts you at risk with the toxin.

Urushiol can be spread by more than direct contact with the plant, however. Anything that comes into contact with the plant can carry the toxin on it including: pets, clothing, tools, and sporting equipment. Burning any part of the plant does not kill the toxin, but instead allows it to cover longer distances and be inhaled, which can be extremely dangerous and life threatening.

The rash that is caused by urushiol, when coming into contact with the skin, is extremely itchy. It can present as a small patch on the skin or, in more severe cases, can cover the entire body. The rash can be a red, itchy area or can present with blisters.

Contrary to popular belief, the rash is not contagious and cannot be spread by scratching. The only way for the rash to spread is if the toxin comes into contact with an un-infected area of skin. Urushiol is not contained in the blisters and, once it has been removed, the rash cannot spread.

If the rash is very severe or if urushiol is inhaled, please seek medical attention immediately.


After immediate exposure to the toxin, wash exposed areas in warm, soapy water. If you have it around, Tecnu, an outdoor cleansing agent, can be used to remove the oils as well. Wash clothes separately from other items with detergent to remove oil from clothing. Shoes and other items that you cannot wash may be cleaned with alcohol while wearing rubber or latex gloves.

Treatment of the rash depends on the severity. If the rash is not very severe, the use of calamine lotion or hydrocortisone 1% cream or ointment can be used. These products help with the itching and hydrocortisone helps with inflammation as well. Hydrocortisone should not be used near the eyes, mouth, or on broken skin. Cool compresses can also help.

More severe cases may require an antihistamine like diphenhydramine (Benadryl). The antihistamine helps with the inflammation and itching. One caution with using diphenhydramine is that it can cause drowsiness.

As previously stated, if you have a very severe rash or if the toxin is inhaled, please seek medical attention immediately.

We all love our summer activities and want to be safe while participating in them. Learning to recognize these pesky plants can be very beneficial. Knowing the treatment for the rash and how to remove the oils can prevent a very unpleasant time.

I hope this has been helpful. Now get out there and enjoy some of the ever changing Ohio summer.