Poison Ivy is an allergic contact dermatitis that is a delayed skin reaction to urushiol, the sap of the plant. An allergy is basically the body’s immune system reacting inappropriately to what it recognizes as a poison.
The skin reacts a day or two after contact. Intensely itchy reddish blisters form in the areas that came in contact with the plant. Often the blisters are in streaks.
The plant can be a climbing vine or a shrub. It has clusters of 3 leaves that are green and may turn red in the fall. The urushiol can stay active on skin and other surfaces such as clothing and tools. It can also still be active in dead leaves.
The fluid inside the skin blisters does not spread the rash.
If the poison ivy leaves are burned and the smoke inhaled, the rash can form inside the lung and cause serious respiratory problems. If the plant is eaten, the digestive tract may get involved.
The treatments for poison ivy are varied. Many over-the-counter products can help the itching:
- Soothing lotions such as Calamine or Aveeno.
- Anesthetic sprays such as Lanacane.
- Topical steroid cortisone 1% is also sold over-the-counter as an anti-itch cream.
- Antihistamine pills such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) also help.
If the rash is bad enough for you to seek medical attention, stronger medication is available. More potent steroid creams are often prescribed. And, if the rash is extensive, prednisone pills are very helpful. Prednisone is an internal corticosteroid. Corticosteroids work by knocking down the body’s immune system.
Being outdoors is fun. If you have been romping where there may be poison ivy, wash your skin promptly to get the urushiol off.