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Poison Ivy Rash: What does it look like and how do I treat it?

what does poison ivy look like?
Feature image: Gardenista

Poison ivy is incredibly prevalent throughout the US, in fact, there are hardly any locations where this plant doesn’t grow, just Hawaii and Alaska and some desert locations.

Poison ivy produces oil called Urushiol that gives most people who come into contact with it, a very uncomfortable rash.  Urushiol is a sticky substance so it is pretty pesky and persistent once you have touched it.  Interestingly, it is also found in all parts of the plant so it’s not just gardeners cutting back shrubs that find themselves with a nasty skin rash. This is why we should always keep an eye out for poison ivy outdoors and do everything we can to avoid contact with it. Of course, sometimes, contact is unavoidable. If you think you’ve managed to come into contact with the stuff, here’s what to do.

Pictures: What does poison ivy rash look like?

The rash from Urushiol is a blotchy red rash that can be quite extensive and is sometimes followed by blistering.

what does poison ivy rash look like?

What does poison ivy rash look like? – click to enlarge (image source: Healthline.com)

The rash does not always develop immediately as the plant oil can be absorbed at different rates so it can seem as if the rash is spreading but in fact, it doesn’t spread if you scratch it.

The oil lives forever on different surfaces so it is possible to keep inadvertently re-exposing yourself to it on garden tools or clothing which is another reason why the rash may re-appear or seem like it is spreading.  If the blisters burst then the contents will not cause a resumption of the rash or encourage it to spread. Don’t touch your eyes!

How to treat poison ivy rash with home remedies

Before you contemplate any treatment, wash the affected area thoroughly with soap and water to remove any traces of the oil.  When the rash appears, it is hot and itchy and very uncomfortable. Ways to treat the rash at home include:

  • Cool the area with cold compresses for 10-15 minutes two or three times a day – this helps to relieve the itching
  • A cool bath or shower can be soothing
  • Soak in a cool bath with a cup of oatmeal or an oatmeal product or you can add two cups of Epsom Salts
  • Dab the rash with Calamine lotion after bathing which is a wonderful topical relief for all sorts of skin rashes and very cooling and is good before bed once it is dry
  • Aloe vera gel can soothe and cool hot and itchy areas of skin
  • Use cucumber slices which have been popped in the freezer for ten minutes, they are wonderfully cooling and don’t dry and tighten the skin like other products which can then increase the itching
  • Make a paste using baking soda in a ratio of 3:1 baking soda to water and apply to the skin before rinsing off
  • Baking soda paste can help dry a rash which is weeping from blistering and other remedies to do this include apple cider vinegar and witch hazel
  • Rub a banana peel or watermelon rind over the rash and leave to dry without rinsing off. This helps relieve itchiness
  • Make a paste with one tablespoon of turmeric powder with an equal amount of the juice from a lime and a lemon – this is said to have great anti-inflammatory properties but it will leave a long-lasting orange/yellow stain on your skin although you may not care if it stops the itching
  • Potato paste is another favorite – mash a potato up in your blender, spread onto your skin and then cover in Saran wrap
  • Take an antihistamine to help ease the reaction

However you try to deal with it at home, any poison ivy rash will take between 7-21 days to clear up so relieving the desire to itch is crucial as this is something you are going to have to live with for a while. While most exposure is more uncomfortable and inconvenient than serious, some people have server reactions to poison ivy.

If the rash worsens and you experience other symptoms that may indicate an allergic reaction then always seek medical advice. You should go to the emergency room for urgent medical care if:

  • You have trouble breathing
  • You find it difficult to swallow
  • The rash is on your face or genitals
  • The affected areas are swelling
  • The rash covers a large area of your body

How to avoid getting poison ivy rash

One of the simplest ways to deal with the rash is to avoid getting it in the first place or at least, minimizing your exposure to it.

  • Cover up – If possible, cover up when gardening or dealing with this plant, just ensure that no part of your skin is exposed so long trousers and long-sleeved tops, don’t forget the hat. What isn’t exposed can’t come into contact with the plant.  If you can’t cover up then there are barrier creams you can use to prevent the Urushiol from coming into contact with your skin.  This cream needs to be thoroughly washed off within a four-hour window of exposure to the plant or your skin will still be able to absorb some of the Urushiol
  • If you are exposed – then if you can, wash your skin with soap and water or even rubbing alcohol so you can at least minimize the reaction by removing the Urushiol. There are specialty washes produced just for gardeners to deal with this problem
  • Wash your gardening tools regularly – if you have poison ivy in your garden even if you are not working on it but especially after you have cut it

What does poison ivy look like?

If you don’t know what the culprit looks like then hop online and check out some pictures.

what does poison ivy look like

What does poison ivy look like? (Image source: FDA.gov)

The plant has clusters of three-pointed leaves that have a reddish tint in spring, they are green in summer and then in fall, turn red, yellow or orange.  Just remember that it is not just the leaves that spread Urushiol, you can get this on your skin from touching any part of the plant.

poison ivy with red leaves

Poison ivy with redder leaves (Image source: Nature.org)