The rash triggered by poison ivy is an allergic skin reaction to urushiol found inside the plant. This oil is present in all parts of the plant including the stems, leaves, roots and berries.
Exposure to poison ivy can occur in any of the following:
- Direct contact to any part of the plant
- Touching objects or clothing that was exposed to the plant
- Direct exposure to pets or other animals that touched the plant
- Being exposed to the smoke of burning plants
It is important to note that the rash from poison ivy is not contagious. Nevertheless, if the oil is left on the skin or on the clothing that was directly exposed to the plant, the skin is exposed to the oil, thus a rash develops. This rash appears to spread since it can develop over several days or it is likely that the oil was not completely removed from all surfaces.
What are the indications?
- Itchy skin rash that develops within 24-72 hours.
- The rash typically starts as small-sized, reddened bumps that later form into blisters of varying sizes. The rash might even crust or ooze. It might appear reddened with bumpy lines or streaks on the skin.
- The rash can develop on any part of the body that was exposed to the plant. It might display any form or pattern but often in straight lines or streaks across the skin.
- Various regions can break out in different times which feels as if the rash is spreading.
- The rash triggered by poison ivy generally lasts around 2-3 weeks.
- Even though the rash can be quite persistent, they are not recurrent. Remember that the rash does not stay dormant and can reappear in the same spot. If the individual experiences an episode of rashes that appears to recur, it is likely that the individual encountered the plant again or the oil was not completely removed from all surfaces and clothing.
When to seek medical care
A doctor should be consulted if the following are present:
- The rash covers a wide area and causes significant discomfort
- Extensive swelling
- Rash develops on the mouth, genitals or around the eyes
- The rash becomes infected and drains pus
Individuals who are highly sensitive to the poison ivy plant are likely to develop a severe allergic reaction or anaphylaxis. Once this reaction occurs, it is vital to seek immediate medical care.
Quick Note / Disclaimer
The material posted on this page on poison ivy is for learning and educational purposes only. To learn to recognize and manage rashes caused by poison ivy, register for a first aid and CPR course with one of our training providers.