Did you just touch the plant?

If you think you just touched the plant you might help things by washing with soap and water right away. The urushiol oil takes some time to penetrate the skin, so the sooner you wash the better. 

Touching leaves while reaching for a frisbee can give you a mild rash, but week whacking a big patch of poison ivy or oak can put you in the hospital

If your exposure was minor, wash it off. It if was major, washing becomes critical, with soap, rinsing, and repeating. And remember that any clothing or tools may be covered in the urushiol plant oil; if you are not careful you can get more oil on you!

And don’t touch your face! Getting oil from the hands to the face an eyes is a common way to turn a rash into a nightmare!

poison ivy skin rash

You HAVE the itchy rash.

Lots of things cause skin rashes; poison ivy, oak, and sumac rashes are almost always very itchy. Are you sure your rash is from the plant?

If your rash is small and not in a sensitive place you can get remedies at the drug store. Zanfel and other creams can help ease the itch.

But if you rash is large or on they eyes or other sensitive areas you must seek medical help if you can. For serious rashes only doctor prescribed medicines, steroids, will help.

Also, it is important to have a sense of how you got the rash: if the plant oil is still on your clothing, tools, furniture, or pet you can keep getting more oil on you and making your rash worse.


Every person, every rash is different.

The poison ivy-oak skin rash is an allergic reaction, so it depends on how your own immune system reacts, and depends on how much plant oil you got on you, and where you have it.

Our nasty-to-view Skin Rash Hall of Fame shows a wide range of rash looks. It might be useful to compare your rash to those.


How to stop the itching?

For many people, applying heat can stop the itching for hours. You can take a very hot shower or spray the affected area with hot water, but you must be careful! 

Obviously, you can burn yourself using heat, whether it is hot water or a hair dryer. And it appears that the hotter the heat, the more effective, but not burning yourself.

There are a number of cremes available at drug stores that might help, such as Zanfel and others. But the heavy-duty remedies like Prednisone must be prescribed by doctors.

For an annoying but not serious rash, check with the drug store. For a serious rash, or one near the eyes, get to a doctor.


How long does the rash last?

Depending on the severity of the rash and whether you are prescribed Prednisone, the rash usually lasts 2 to 3 weeks.

It get worse for about a week, stays the same for a week, and then fades in the 3rd week.

But if you look at the nightmare rashes in the Hall of Fame, you can be sure that some of these lasted longer, possible 6 weeks.


What are the bubbles?

When your immune system over-reacts to the urushiol oil it can create bubbles of clear blood plasma fluid that are both ugly and, when ruptured, can open the skin to infection. It is often thought that the bubbles contain the urushiol oil that caused the rash, but they don’t; they are like burn blisters or the blister some get from allergic to nickel jewelry.

The bubble will either subside or break open. When they break you need to gently wash the area and keep it dry so the skin can heal. In most cases, a rash with bubbles is serious enough that you should see a doctor and take their advice.

Again, you may want to visit the Skin Rash Hall of Fame to see how bad the bubbles can be, and how they can let the skin become infected when they break.


Folk remedies.

There are many ideas about folk medicine remedies for poison ivy-oak rashes. None have been tested and approved by science, but many are harmless and can be tried, on a less serious rash.

The juice of the jewelweed plant is often cited as a cure, but exactly how to use it is not clear. 

Calamine lotion, made famous in the song by the famous Drifters song, was commonly used to ease the itch, but my child experiences with it was not useful: as it dried it just got itchier.

poison ivy leg rash

Allergist or Dermatologist?

If the rash is an allergic reaction, should you see an allergist or a dermatologist, since the rash is on the skin?

In most cases for short term help, people see a dermatologist, or even the emergency room for very bad cases.

For long-term help you can visit an allergist: anti poison ivy shots and other measures have gone in and out of fashion, so if you can’t seem to avoid getting a rash, see what your allergist says.


Why not Benedryl?

It is an interesting issue: if the poison ivy rash is an allergic reaction, then why does not Benedryl, a very effective anti-allergy medicine, help?

Having checked with a few allergists and dermatologist, I still don’t have an easy answer to this, but Benedryl does not help with a poison ivy-oak rash.