Poison Ivy: Facts & Fiction


Approximately 50% of the population when exposed to Poison Ivy will have a reaction. And annually it is estimated that between 25-45 million Americans have to seek medical treatment after poison ivy exposure. So here are a few facts about poison ivy and a few fictions that we can hopefully clear up for you.

FACT: You can use a barrier cream such as Ivy Block prior to hiking/working outdoors to prevent getting poison ivy.

FICTION: The rash from poison ivy spreads from the blisters of the original rash. This is just simply not true. When you expose yourself to poison ivy on your skin it creates an internal reaction that then produces a rash externally. The reaction internally can take longer time to appear externally depending on how thick the outer layer of skin is on certain portions of the body. So washing your rash in bleach(as some people recommend), or telling people to not touch the blisters will NOT prevent the rash from further appearing in other areas of the body.

FACT: The phrase “Leaves of Three leave them be” is very truthful. Here are a few pictures of Poison Ivy and Poison Oak.

Poison Oak:
Poison Ivy:
Poison ivy leaves and flowers

FICTION:You cannot get poison ivy in the winter. You can unfortunately get poison ivy from any portion of the plan that carries sap. So when you see a vine without leaves in the winter do not touch it or you can easily get a nice rash. Here are a few pictures of other portions of the plant other than the leaf structure.

Image result for poison ivy vine winter
FACT: Washing your skin after exposure will help reduce the amount of rash you will get. This requires washing as soon as possible. There was a study that showed washing your skin within 10 minutes of exposure will remove up to 50% of the chemical urushiol, which is what causes the rash to appear. Washing your skin up to 2 hours after exposure may help but the quicker the better.
FICTION: Washing your skin by vigorously scrubbing, or soaking in a tub with oatmeal will not heal the rash. You may use an oatmeal bath to just soothe the symptoms of itching, but it will not heal the rash. The rash will go away on its own after your body has stopped its internal reaction/response to the exposure to the plant.

My final fact is this, your rash will go away without medical treatment. This can take 1-3 weeks. However, often if you will obtain a prescription for either topical or oral steroids you will typically relieve the awful symptoms that go with the rash. It will not change the course of the illness. But it may change the course of how you feel!
If you need a quick visit for a prescription for your poison ivy, try our easy and convenient option of video chat calls through E-Visit. Just click HERE to sign up.

As always, I hope you stay happy and healthy.

Carolyn Clark, NP-C