Prevent poison ivy rash this summer


We’ve all heard the saying, "leaves of three, let it be."

But poison ivy can be tricky. It can hide in the brush, not always in plain sight.

According to Dr. Melissa Piliang, a dermatologist at Cleveland Clinic, people might not know they’ve come in contact with poison ivy right away, as it can sometimes take a while for a rash to show up.

But when it does, it’s unmistakable.

“For poison ivy, the itch often precedes the rash,” she said. “It’s that itch, and if you’ve had it once, you know when you get it again. It’s that terrible, unmistakable itch.” 

Piliang said the first time a person is exposed to poison ivy, they might not get a rash.

But if exposed again, they will likely get the itchy rash, and it gets worse with each exposure.

If a rash is present on parts of the body with thicker skin, such as the hands, it takes longer for the rash to come out. 

A poison ivy rash will appear first in places where the skin is thinner, such as the eyelids.

Piliang said the resin, or oil, that is on the leaves and stems of poison ivy, is what causes the reaction.

Some people are more sensitive to the effects of poison ivy than others -- it just depends on a person’s immune system.

If a small poison ivy rash develops, Piliang recommends using some over-the-counter hydrocortisone ointment, putting a cool compress on the affected area, or taking an antihistamine.

But if the rash is spread over a large part of the body, or if a fever develops, you should seek medical attention.

Piliang said prevention is key. If people know they’re going to be in a wooded area, they should wear long sleeves and pants and use gloves to clear out brush in landscaping.

Even if folks aren’t sure if they were exposed to poison ivy, it’s best to clean clothes right away.

“When you get home, really before you even go very far in your house, strip all those clothes off, put them in the wash, wash them in hot, soapy water, and throw them in your dryer,” Piliang said. “You should then get in the shower; start with cold water, as cold water will rinse the oil off. Hot water lets it spread more. Rinse with cool water, and then use soap and water.” 

Poison ivy is not contagious and it cannot be spread to other parts of the body through itching.