Poison ivy rash

Poison ivy rash is medically called as Rhus dermatitis which is a form of contact dermatitis. As the name implies, contact dermatitis involves skin irritation after contact with a specific irritant. When it comes to exposure to poison ivy, the irritant is called urushiol which is the resin present in plants in the Anarcardiaceae family. The plants in this classification include poison oak, poison ivy and poison sumac. In addition, mango tree, cashew nut tree, marking nut tree and even Japanese lacquer tree are included.

Poison ivy

The appearance of poison ivy, sumac and oak tends to vary depending by season and region. The leaves of poison ivy are more likely to be grouped in three and notched but can be smooth-edged. The plant usually grows as shrubs or vines.

Poison sumac

It is important to note that poison sumac possesses 7-13 leaves on a single stem that is angled in an upward manner. The leaves are smooth-edged, oval in shape and about 10 cm in length. Poison sumac is usually found in boggy areas.


In most cases, 8-48 hours of exposure to urushiol can lead to the appearance of the distinctive rash.

Poison oak

The leaves of poison oak are arranged in groups of five, three or seven. They are smaller than the leaves of the poison ivy and have rounded smooth edges. Take note the plant can be a small bush or climbing vine.

A close look on poison ivy

Poison ivy along with poison sumac and poison oak are responsible for causing contact dermatitis. Millions of individuals need medical care after being exposed to one of these plants.

A reaction to poison ivy occurs after contact with the leaf or internal parts of the root or stem. In most cases, 8-48 hours of exposure to urushiol can lead to the appearance of the distinctive rash. The rash is usually red in color, linear or circular in pattern along with blisters.

Urushiol can also be found under the fingernails, clothing and on tools unless carefully removed. Remember that the resin itself can be active and capable of triggering a rash for up to 3 weeks after exposure. Urushiol is not found in the blister fluid and should not be held accountable for spreading the rash. If not treated, the rash typically resolves within 3 weeks.

Treatment for poison ivy rash

The usual locations in the body where rash occurs include exposed areas on the arms, face and legs. The severity of the rash varies depending on the sensitivity of the individual as well as the extent and amount of exposure.

  • Wash the skin using water and soap to inactivate and remove the resin. Washing is highly effective if it is carried out within 15 minutes of exposure.
  • A wet and cold compress is effective during the blistering stage. This should be used for 15-30 minutes for several times in a day for the initial 3 days.
  • Steroid ointments or creams are useful in reducing the itchiness and redness. In most cases, hydrocortisone can be applied on the face but not usually strong enough. Usually, a prescription-strength steroid is used for the arms or legs.
  • A cool bath using colloidal oatmeal can provide a soothing effect and control the inflammation
  • Antihistamine can be given to reduce the itchiness.


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