The poison ivy plant has an oil, called urushiol, which some people are sensitive to. When those individuals come in contact with the oil, they develop a red, itchy rash. Poison ivy has been around for a long time and you may be familiar with the uncomfortable, itchy feeling you have when you have come in contact with the plant, however, the following facts about poison ivy rashes may help you better control and cope with a developing rash.
Poison ivy, along with poison oak and sumac, are caused by sensitivity to the oils found on the leaves of these plants. These oils immediately begin soaking into your skin and the rash appears anywhere between 12 and 72 hours after exposure to the oils and can last up to 8 weeks. The length and severity of the rash is dependent on how much oil is absorbed by your skin.
Often, you will develop a rash after accidently touching a poison ivy plant, however, the oils from the plant may also rub off on clothing or on pets and touching these can also result in a rash. Poison ivy oils can stay on clothing for years, so it is important to wash clothes immediately if you have touched or been exposed to a poison ivy plant.
It can sometimes seem as if the poison ivy rash is spreading, however, the rash does not "spread." It is more likely that your skin absorbed the oils at different rates and so the rash continued to appear over several days. You may also have oils on your clothes or other objects and you touched these oils later in the day or the next day and so the rash continues to appear as the oils are absorbed. You should wash the area with soap and water immediately after coming in contact with a plant to avoid spreading the oil to different parts of your body.
Poison ivy rashes often appear as a straight line because of how you brushed the plant. However, if you have oil on your hands and rub your skin, pet an animal that has urushiol on their fur or come in contact with clothing with the oil on it, the rash may be more widespread.
Scratching the rash does not cause it to spread; however, it can cause infection. Germs on your hands and under your fingernails can cause an infection when you scratch, especially when you open the blisters.
The poison ivy plant has a trio of bright green leaves on each stem. The leaves turn red in the fall. Many children are taught the saying, "Leaves of three, let it be" to help remind them to stay away from any plant with three leaves on the stem and therefore reduce their chances of coming in contact with poison ivy. Wearing protective clothing and gloves when gardening or walking in the woods can help you avoid touching the plant. Be sure to wash the clothing after working in the yard or being in wooded areas.
Most cases of poison ivy rash can be treated with over-the-counter creams and lotions. Calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream can help cut down on the itchiness. Cold compresses or oatmeal baths can feel soothing. Antihistamines, such as Benadryl, can help if you are having problems sleeping because of discomfort from the rash.