Poison Ivy Rash

Leaves of three, let them be. It's a reminder to stay away from plants that feature three leaflets to a stem, such as poison ivy.

Poison ivy and poison oak, are common causes of a skin irritation called contact dermatitis. Poison sumac, which has many leaflets to a stem, is another offender. Contact with poison ivy can cause a red, itchy rash consisting of small bumps, blisters or swelling.

Rashes caused by poison ivy and its cousins generally aren't serious, but they certainly can be bothersome. Treatment for poison ivy mostly consists of self-care methods to relieve the itching until the reaction goes away.

Signs and symptoms

Signs and symptoms of a poison ivy rash include:
§ Redness
§ Itching
§ Swelling
§ Blisters

Often, the rash has a linear appearance because of the way the plant brushes against your skin. But if you come into contact with a piece of clothing or pet fur that has urushiol on it, the rash may be more diffuse.

The reaction usually develops a day or two after exposure and can last up to three weeks, even with treatment. In severe cases, new areas of rash may break out several days or more after initial exposure. This may seem like the rash is spreading. But it's more likely due to renewed contact with the oily resin or to the rate at which your skin absorbed the urushiol.

Your skin must come in direct contact with the oil from the plant in order to be affected. Spreading blister fluid through scratching doesn't spread the rash, but germs under your fingernails may cause a secondary infection.

When to seek medical advice

See your doctor if any of the following occur:
§ The reaction is severe or widespread.
§ The rash affects sensitive areas of your body, such as your eyes, mouth or genitals.
§ Blisters are oozing pus.
§ You develop a fever greater than 100 F.
§ The rash doesn't get better within a few weeks.


Scratching a poison ivy rash with dirty fingernails may cause a secondary bacterial infection. This might cause pus to start oozing from the blisters. See your doctor if this happens. Treatment for a secondary infection is generally with antibiotics.


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