6 Ways to Prevent and Treat Poison Ivy

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By News Team on April 8, 2022

When the temperature rises and the wind dies down, it's time to go outside–and this year we're all more excited than ever to get together with friends and family in parks, on trails and in the garden.

However, if you spend a lot of time outside, you just might end up with a case of poison ivy. 

Plants in the poison ivy family are found in just about every state in the continental U.S., and they are very hard to get rid of.

Poison ivy is found just about everywhere, from wooded areas to open fields, from roadsides to riverbanks, and even in your own backyard.

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends covering up with long sleeves and pants when engaging in activities and outings where the likelihood of encountering poison ivy is high.

That's good advice, says Mariana Phillips, M.D., Carilion Clinic's section chief for Dermatology and Mohs Surgery. "Using an over-the-counter 'ivy blocker' lotion on your hands, arms and legs can provide extra protection and prevent development of the rash when exposed to the plant," she said.

The poison ivy rash is caused from contact with the oily resin called urushiol, which can be found all over the plant: on the leaves, stems, flowers and roots. You can get the rash from direct or indirect contact with the plant, so even petting your dog after he runs through the woods can result in a rash.

poison ivy vine climbing up a tree
With its shiny red and green leaves, poison ivy is deceptively pretty. Watch for hairs on the vine and remember "leaves of three, let them be" to avoid contact with it.

The rash is characterized by redness, swelling, itchiness and small or large blisters, often along a line where the plant touches your skin.

If you do happen to come in contact with the plant–or even worse, find those itchy red bumps on your skin–check out these six tips from Carilion Clinic Dermatology to treat it at home and keep it from spreading.

  1. Wash your skin. Use lukewarm, soapy water to rinse off the urishiol oil. Oil that isn't washed off can spread from person to person and to other areas of your body.
  2. Wash your clothing. Oil will stay on your clothing until it's washed off with soap and water.
  3. Wash everything else that may have come into contact with the plant. This can include gardening tools, leashes and pets, or household items. 
  4. Avoid scratching. Scratching increases your risk of infection. 
  5. Do not touch blisters. If they pop, don't remove the skin, as it provides protection to the raw wound and prevents infection.
  6. Ease itching by applying calamine lotion, hydrocortisone cream and cool compresses. 

See your primary care provider if you think your rash may be infected or it doesn't improve after seven to 10 days.
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This article was reviewed by Carilion Clinic Dermatology and Mohs' Surgery.

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