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Poison Ivy - Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention

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Poison Ivy - Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention

4 min read


Poison ivy rashes are red, painful, and itchy bumps that develop on the body after going to the woods. Read about how to identify and avoid these poisonous plants.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Nitika Nijhara

Published At November 18, 2019
Reviewed AtAugust 2, 2023

What Is Poison Ivy and Poison Ivy Rash?

Poison ivy, otherwise called Toxicodendron radicans, is a poisonous flowering plant commonly found in Asia and North America. It is known to cause urushiol-induced contact dermatitis, which results in painful and itchy rashes in people who come in contact with this plant. This allergic reaction is caused by urushiol, which is a clear, odorless, and sticky liquid found in the plant's sap.

This plant mainly grows in woodland, where there is an abundance of sunlight. It is a shrub and does not grow very tall. In spring, these plants produce green berries and yellow flowers. You can identify a poison ivy plant by its leaves, which have three leaflets and can be light to dark green in color. Most people are allergic and will develop a rash if they touch this plant.

poison ivy


How Does Poison Ivy Cause Allergic Reaction?

The sap of this plant, which is present in the leaves, stems, and roots, causes this allergic reaction. This sap contains urushiol, which is a pale yellow oil and is also present in poison oak and poison sumac.

When this oil touches the skin, it causes the skin to blister. An allergic reaction can result from:

  • Touching the plant - It includes touching the leaves, stem, roots, or berries.

  • Touching things that have come in contact with the plant - Pet fur, clothes, shoes, or other equipment.

  • Breathing in smoke when this plant is burned - Inhaling the smoke is the most severe type of exposure. It can irritate your nasal passage and lungs, resulting in breathing problems.

The fluid from the blister does not usually spread the rash, as it does not contain urushiol.

What Symptoms Does a Poison Ivy Rash Cause?

Coming in contact with a poison ivy plant result in a rash and other signs and symptoms like:

  • Redness.

  • Itchiness.

  • Inflammation.

  • Blisters.

  • Dyspnea (difficulty breathing) from inhaling smoke.

The rash typically develops in a straight line where the plant brushed against the skin. Rash from wearing a cloth that has been contaminated with urushiol will result in a more widespread rash. The allergic reaction to urushiol develops 12 to 48 hours after exposure. This rash can last up to a couple of weeks or more. The healing time depends on the amount of urushiol that got inside your skin.

Get immediate medical help if you:

  • Have a severe allergic reaction.

  • Have breathing problems because of inhaling smoke from burning poison.

  • Have edema.

  • Develop rashes on the eyes, mouth, and genitals.

  • Are oozing pus from the blisters.

  • Have a fever.

  • Do not feel better in a week.

What Are the Risk Factors for Exposure to Poison Ivy?

The activities that increase your risk of exposure to poison ivy are:

  • Hunting.

  • Farming.

  • Gardening.

  • Camping.

  • Installing cable or telephone lines.

  • Working in construction sites.

How Is a Poison Ivy Rash Diagnosed?

No test is needed to diagnose this condition, as your doctor will be able to diagnose it through clinical examination. If you already know that you touched poison ivy, there is no need to diagnose this condition.

If needed, your doctor might rule out other common skin conditions that cause similar rashes like psoriasis.

How Is a Poison Ivy Rash Treated?

Poison ivy rashes clear on there own in 2 to 3 weeks if left untreated. You can try some home remedies that will relieve itching and other symptoms. You might need corticosteroid creams or ointments only if the rash is widespread. And if the rash gets infected, you will require antibiotics.

After exposure to urushiol, try doing the following:

  • Properly wash your hands, skin, and clothes. Washing within 30 minutes removes some of the oil and lessens the allergic reaction.

  • Oil can remain on your clothes and gardening equipment for a long time, so always wash them properly.

  • You can use an antihistamine, Calamine lotion, and Hydrocortisone to stop the itching.

  • Avoid scratching, as it will make the rash worse. It also increases the risk of infection.

  • Apply cool compresses.

Home Remedies:


Try the following home remedies to reduce itching and redness:

  • Use oils and lotions that contain Menthol, as it leaves a cooling effect on the skin.

  • Try using chamomile, eucalyptus, etc., essential oils, only after diluting them.

  • Aloe vera gel can be used to relieve itching and inflammation.

  • Taking a bath with water and oatmeal helps skin rashes.

  • Apple cider vinegar is widely used for poison ivy rash.

What Are the Complications of a Poison Ivy Rash?

The complications include:

  1. Infection - The blister or rash can get infected and start oozing pus. Get immediate medical help if this happens, because you will need treatment with antibiotics.

  2. Breathing problems - Inhaling the smoke of burning poison ivy can irritate your airway and lungs.

  3. The spread of rash - Urushiol can remain in your hands, pet’s fur, clothing, and gardening equipment, which can spread if it comes in contact with your skin.

  4. Death - Breathing difficulties and swelling if not treated immediately might result in fatal complications.

How to Prevent Getting Exposed to Poison Ivy?

The common preventive tips include:

  • Educate yourself about this plant and how it looks, so you can avoid going close to it.

  • Wear clothing that covers your hands and legs while hiking or gardening.

  • Avoid walking through shrubs and plants in forest areas.

  • Do not let your pets run through wooded areas.

  • Always wear protective clothing like socks, boots, pants, and gloves when needed.

  • Remove all weeds from your garden by wearing heavy gloves. Avoid burying poison ivy.

  • After coming home from the woods, wash your skin and pet's fur.

  • If you have been exposed to urushiol, wash the area with water and soap within 30 minutes.

  • Give your pet a bath after wearing long rubber gloves.

  • Wash your clothes properly with detergent in a washing machine.

  • Clean your gardening equipment and shoes properly.

  • Apply skin products that act as a barrier between your skin and urushiol.


Poison ivy rashes are not contagious, that is, they cannot spread from person to person through coming in contact with blisters. Take necessary preventive measures while going to an area where the chance of getting exposed to poisonous ivy plants is high, and that itself is the best initiative to avoid encountering ivy rashes. Ivy rashes can be promptly tackled with home-based remedial measures. For more information on home remedies, consult a doctor now.

Frequently Asked Questions


What Symptoms Does Poison Ivy Show on the Skin?

The following includes the list of most common symptoms seen in a patient’s skin when they are affected with poison ivy:
- Redness.
- Severe itching.
- Swelling.
- Blisters.
- Difficulty in breathing if the patient has inhaled the smoke dissipated from burning poison ivy.


Is Poison Ivy Rash Contagious?

No, the rashes caused due to poison ivy are not contagious. The rash will occur in a person only if they have had contact with the plant oil. It can never spread on other parts of the body by scratching or touching the rash.


What Is the Rapid Cure for Poison Ivy?

The following are certain methods that can help in curing a poison ivy rapidly. They are:
- Apply an over-the-counter corticosteroid cream on the initial days of the condition.
- You can also apply calamine lotion.
- Take oral antihistamines, like Diphenhydramine. In addition, it also helps the affected person to sleep better.
- Soak the affected region of your skin in a cool-water bath that contains an oatmeal-based bath product.


How Long Does It Take for Poison Ivy Rash to Go Away?

In most affected individuals, poison ivy goes away on its own in a period ranging from one or three weeks. After a week, the blisters will gradually start to dry up, and the rash will eventually fade. In people affected by the severe form of the disease, the rash may last even longer, and they may also have worse symptoms.


How Long Can Poison Ivy Be Contagious?

The fact is that poison ivy rashes are not contagious. So when the affected individual gets a rash from poison ivy it is only due to the contact with urushiol oil. Urushiol oil is the plant oil present in poison ivy, and this oil triggers the rash. Also, the rashes with open blisters will not spread to other regions of the body.


What Are the Early Symptoms of Poison Ivy?

The following are the earliest manifestations that can be seen in a patient who is affected by poison ivy:
- The affected skin becomes very red and severely itchy.
- A rash starts to erupt on the skin, most commonly in a pattern of streaks and patches from where the plant has particularly contacted the skin.
- The rash later develops into bright red bumps known as papules, or as large, oozing blisters.


Can I Take a Shower With Poison Ivy?

Yes, you can take a shower when you are affected by poison ivy. You can take short, lukewarm baths and cool showers. These methods can help with reducing your itching. Avoid hot baths and showers as it might worsen the itch.


Should I Cover Poison Ivy Rash to Prevent Exposure?

A poison ivy rash is usually seen as a break in the skin. Any flammable material, such as bleach or rubbing of alcohol, can lead to damage in your tissues and make it even more, harder for the wound to heal. Always keep the rash clean with antibacterial soap and water. You can cover it with a well-ventilated bandage if your rash is oozing. This method can help in preventing bacteria from getting into the wound site.


Does Poison Ivy Present With Increased Itchiness at Night?

Yes, itching gets very worse and can keep the affected individual awake at night. The rash gets itchier at night, mainly if it covers areas such as the eyes, mouth, or genital area.


Can I Wash My Clothes with Poison ivy on them?

You can wash the affected clothes separately with another ordinary laundry detergent at the highest water temperature possible for a more extended period. Washing the affected items separately will help in preventing the poison from spreading to other clothes.


Should I Avoid Sun Exposure When I Am Affected With Poison Ivy?

Yes, you should avoid sun exposure if you are affected by poison ivy. Always keep yourself cool, and stay out of the sun. Leave the rash open to the fresh air only. Do not forget to wash all clothing and things that might have contacted the poison ivy’s oil.


Can Poison Ivy Spread After a Shower?

No, poison ivy rash does not spread after a shower, especially if you took it in lukewarm water. However, if you take a bath in hot showers, it can spread poison ivy rash to other parts of the body.


Does Heat Aggravate the Symptoms of Poison Ivy?

Yes, studies have found that heat and sweat are capable of making the itching caused by poison ivy worse. So if you are affected, you are supposed to always stay calm and use cold compresses on the skin. Calamine lotions and Hydrocortisone creams can be used to relieve itching and blistering.


How Can I Be Immune to Poison Ivy?

Any person can get affected and develop a sensitivity to urushiol, which is the oil present at poison ivy. It can happen at any part of their lifetime. But there is no way to get entirely immune to urushiol.


Can Hydrogen Peroxide Help With Poison Ivy?

Yes, hydrogen peroxide can help in curing poison ivy rash. It can be formulated as 3% hydrogen peroxide in a spray bottle and sprayed at the affected regions. It should be later allowed to air dry. This can help in treating the symptoms as well as it can dry the rash.


What Can I Apply on Poison Ivy Rash?

You can apply over-the-counter corticosteroid creams at the initial days of infection. Calamine lotion can also be applied over the affected area. Additionally, you can also take oral antihistamines, like Diphenhydramine.


Can Apple Cider Vinegar Cure Poison Ivy?

Yes, apple cider vinegar can cure poison ivy. It has many medicinal qualities and serves as an effective home remedy to many other health conditions also. You can use apple cider vinegar by soaking it in a brown paper bag, and then you are supposed to place the bag on the rash. This can help by drawing out the toxins of poison ivy.
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Dr. Nitika Nijhara
Dr. Nitika Nijhara



corticosteroidspoison ivy rashcontact dermatitisinflammationredness of skin
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