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Poison Ivy


Poison ivy is a plant that can cause an itchy, uncomfortable rash on your skin. Poison ivy grows as a shrub or vine in woods, fields, and areas of thick underbrush. It has 3 bright green leaves on each stem that turn red in autumn.



  • Antiseptic or drying creams or ointments: These medicines may be used to dry out the rash and decrease the itching. These products may be available without a doctor's order.
  • Steroids: This medicine helps decrease itching and inflammation. It can be given as a cream to apply to your skin or as a pill.
  • Antihistamines: This medicine may help decrease itching and help you sleep. It is available without a doctor's order.
  • Take your medicine as directed. Contact your healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell him of her if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency.

Follow up with your doctor as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

How your poison ivy rash spreads:

You cannot spread poison ivy by touching your rash or the liquid from your blisters. Poison ivy is spread only if you scratch your skin while it still has oil on it. You may think your rash is spreading because new rashes appear over a number of days. This happens because areas covered by thin skin break out in a rash first. Your face or forearms may develop a rash before thicker areas, such as the palms of your hands.


  • Keep your rash clean and dry: Wash it with soap and water. Gently pat it dry with a clean towel.
  • Try not to scratch or rub your rash: This can cause your skin to become infected.
  • Use a compress on your rash: Dip a clean washcloth in cool water. Wring it out and place it on your rash. Leave the washcloth on your skin for 15 minutes. Do this at least 3 times per day.
  • Take a cornstarch or oatmeal bath: If your rash is too large to cover with wet washcloths, take 3 or 4 cornstarch baths daily. Mix 1 pound of cornstarch with a little water to make a paste. Add the paste to a tub full of water and mix well. You may also use colloidal oatmeal in the bath water. Use lukewarm water. Avoid hot water because it may cause your itching to increase.

Prevent a poison ivy rash in the future:

  • Wear skin protection: Wear long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and gloves. Use a skin block lotion to protect your skin from poison ivy oil. You can find this at a drugstore without a prescription.
  • Wash clothing after possible exposure: If you think you have been near a poison ivy plant, wash the clothes you were wearing separately from other clothes. Rinse the washing machine well after you take the clothes out. Scrub boots and shoes with warm, soapy water. Dry clean items and clothing that you cannot wash in water. Poison ivy oil is sticky and can stay on surfaces for a long time. It can cause a new rash even years later.
  • Bathe your pet: Use warm water and shampoo on your pet's fur. This will prevent the spread of oil to your skin, car, and home. Wear long sleeves, long pants, and gloves while washing pets or any items that may have oil on them.
  • Reduce exposure to poison ivy: Do not touch plants that look like poison ivy. Keep your yard free of poison ivy. While protecting your skin, remove the plant and the roots. Place them in a plastic bag and seal the bag tightly.
  • Do not burn poison ivy plants: This can spread the oil through the air. If you breathe the oil into your lungs, you could have swelling and serious breathing problems. Oil that clings to the fire ash can land on your skin and cause a rash.

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • You have pus, soft yellow scabs, or tenderness on the rash.
  • The itching gets worse or keeps you awake at night.
  • The rash covers more than 1/4 of your skin or spreads to your eyes, mouth, or genital area.
  • The rash is not better after 2 to 3 weeks.
  • You have tender, swollen glands on the sides of your neck.
  • You have swelling in your arms and legs.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Return to the emergency department if:

  • You have a fever.
  • You have redness, swelling, and tenderness around the rash.
  • You have trouble breathing.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Learn more about Poison Ivy (Aftercare Instructions)

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Further information

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