What is poison ivy?
Poison ivy is a three-leafed plant that grows throughout Oklahoma. Urushiol, a chemical found in the sap of poison ivy, causes the itchy rash that poison ivy is known for. About 85 percent of people will develop a rash after coming into contact with urushiol.
People who are allergic might develop a rash if they come into contact with the sap from the plant. Poison ivy sap, or oil, is generally sticky and gets stuck to clothing, animal fur and gardening tools. The oil might remain on any surface, including dead plants, and cause problems for up to five years.
How is it treated?
If you're allergic and come into contact with the plant's oils, you might develop a skin rash within a few hours to two days. You'll want to wash the affected area as soon as possible with soap and water. Generally, if you're able to quickly tend to the affected area and wash it, the rash won't spread.
Try not to scratch it, and it's important to keep it clean and dry. You don't want to pop the blisters or cover the rash. If you have washed it well with soap and water, it generally won't spread. You'll want to let it air dry.
Products that contain solvents such as mineral oil also might help to remove urushiol from your skin. Your doctor might also recommend using hydrocortisone creams, calamine lotion, antihistamine tablets or oatmeal baths. Be careful, though, if you've been scratching, because the topical cream medicine can get into your bloodstream.
The rash should clear up on its own after you've cleaned it. However, if you're severely allergic, you might need to see your doctor and get some steroids or other medicine.
Does it hurt?
It will depend on how extensive your rash is. Generally, poison ivy is more annoying than painful. However, if you scratch the rash enough that it bleeds, it can be really painful.
Also, if poison ivy has been burned and you're breathing in that smoke, it can get in your lungs and eyes and cause problems. This can be one of the most painful ways a person develops irritation from poison ivy.
How long does it take to recover?
It depends. You'll want to keep from scratching the rash. You don't want to break open the blisters. Bacteria from under your fingernails can get into the blisters and cause an infection. After about a week, though, the blisters should start drying up, and the rash should go away. However, if you have a large rash across your body, it could take longer.
When should a person seek medical attention?
Usually, a rash from poison ivy doesn't merit a trip to the doctor. However, if you develop a fever higher than 100 degrees or if the rash covers large areas of your body, you might want to contact your doctor. Also, if the rash is in your eyes, mouth or genitals, you might want to seek medical attention. Also, if pus starts coming from the blisters or if the rash does not get better after a few days, you should talk with your doctor.
Source: Whitney Kemp, education coordinator at the Oklahoma Poison Control Center; American Academy of Family Physicians.