Autoimmune Disease Management 101: Fighting Back

Poison Ivy: Understanding The Rash And When You Require Medical Attention

One of the greatest things about summertime is getting outside and enjoying the weather. Many individuals and families alike enjoy going camping and hiking through the woods. While these activities are enjoyable, there is also the risk of coming into contact with poisonous plants, such as poison ivy. Some people aren't allergic, but others aren't so lucky. Those that are allergic will break out in an uncomfortable and itchy rash. It is important to understand signs and symptoms of poison ivy, how to treat the rash, and when medical attention is required.

Signs and Symptoms

It isn't uncommon to develop a rash while playing outside, so it is important that you know how to decipher a poison ivy rash from other rashes. The most common signs of a poison ivy rash include redness, swelling, itching, and blisters. The rash tends to form in a straight line, but because it is contagious, it can quickly spread to other areas of the body if you touch it. As a general rule, the rash begins to form roughly four hours after coming into contact with the plant, and it can last anywhere from two to three weeks.


Mild rashes can be treated from the comfort of your home. The affected area should be washed with soapy water immediately to remove as much of the poison ivy oil as possible. It will be tempting, but avoid scratching the rash, if it forms, as this can lead to infection. Some of the discomfort you are experiencing can be alleviated with cool showers or baths. Hydrocortisone cream can help eliminate the itching. The most important thing is that you try to leave the rash alone so that it doesn't spread.

When to See a Doctor

In most cases, the rash can be treated at home. However, there are cases when you should visit an urgent care facility. If you begin to have difficulty breathing or swallowing, experience extreme swelling (particularly in the face), have a fever over 100 degrees, or the rash lasts longer than a few weeks, it is important to seek medical attention.

Poison ivy is extremely uncomfortable and contagious, so it should be avoided at all costs. The best thing to do is to understand what it looks like before you embark on any camping or hiking trips. However, if you come into contact with the plant, try to treat it at home first. If you experience serious symptoms, seek medical attention immediately at a walk in clinic.