Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac are a group of plants that can cause a severe allergic reaction (contact dermatitis) when exposed to the skin. The reaction presents as an inflamed rash with blisters and severe itching on exposed body parts. The rash may often be in streaks from the skin brushing against the plants. Severe symptoms may also include swelling of the face, lips, and mouth with difficulty breathing. Allergic contact dermatitis from poison ivy can present from hours to weeks after exposure, and may last for several weeks.
The allergic reaction is caused by contact with an oil called urushiol in poison ivy, oak and sumac. The oil is present on all parts of the plant including the leaves, stems, flowers, and roots. Urushiol can remain active for several years and can cause an allergic reaction even if exposed to dead leaves or plants. The rash itself or fluid from blisters is not contagious. However, if urushiol oil is present on clothing, pets or other surfaces, it can continue to cause a reaction to anyone exposed. Close contacts to exposed individuals may also develop a rash if they come into contact with any contaminated clothing or belongings. It’s important to wash any clothes, shoes or belongings that may have been exposed to poison ivy to prevent further transmission.
Patients often require medical treatment due severe itching and discomfort. Treatment may vary depending on the severity of symptoms.
- Oatmeal Baths and Calamine Lotion: May help calm and soothe the skin in patients with a mild reaction.
- Antihistamines: May help reduce itching of the skin.
- Topical Corticosteroid Creams: Over-the-counter hydrocortisone creams may help reduce inflammation in mild cases, but most often, patients require prescription-strength corticosteroid creams to help reduce inflammation and itching.
- Systemic Corticosteroids: Patients with a moderate to severe reaction may often need a short course of systemic corticosteroids to reduce inflammation and help alleviate their symptoms.
Depending on your skin type and symptoms, our dermatologist can help determine the appropriate treatment option for you.