Poison Ivy: First Aid Management

Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) is a poisonous plant that is found in North America and parts of Asia. Coming into contact with this plant results to severe itching and reddening of the skin, this rash comes from an oily resin found in the berries, leaves, stems and roots of the plant called urushiol. Urushiol remains active in a poison ivy plant for years and is also found in poison oak and poison sumac.

Poison ivy rashes usually develop within 12-48 hours after coming into contact with the urushiol.  The severity of the symptoms will depend on how much urushiol is on the skin. Common signs and symptoms include severe itching, reddening and swelling rashes that usually appears in a straight line. Sometimes, blisters may develop.

Most cases of poison ivy are mild as they usually come into contact with exposed areas of the body, such as the arms and legs. However, if the rashes from poison ivy are severe, particularly if they are found on the face or genitals, medical help may be required. Learn how to manage poisonous plants, such as poison ivy and the like, by enrolling in First Aid Courses.

Only half of the people that come into contact with poison ivy will develop allergic contact dermatitis. This half develops these itchy rashes because their skin developed sensitivity against urushiol, whereas the other half develops immunity against urushiol that can either strengthen or disappear through time. Poison ivy rashes can only be spread to another person if a person comes into direct contact with a person who still has urushiol on his/ her skin or clothes.

How to Get Rashes from Poison Ivy

An individual can develop rashes from poison ivy through three different means:

  • Direct contact: skin contact with the berries, leaves, stems or roots
  • Indirect contact: skin contact with persons or objects that still have urushiol resin on their skin or clothes
  • Inhalation: smoke inhalation that can occur from burning the plants resulting to lung or nasal irritation

First Aid Management and Treatment for Poison Ivy Rashes

The rashes from poison ivy usually disappear within one to three weeks. Administer first aid on poison ivy rashes by doing the following:

Joining First Aid Courses can help manage poison ivy rashes
Joining First Aid Courses can help manage poison ivy rashes
  • Thoroughly wash the skin with soap and warm water. Do this as soon as possible to stop the oil from entering the skin.
  • Remove clothes and shoes that may be contaminated with urushiol immediately. Wash these separately from other clothes with warm water and soap.
  • To clean fingernails, use a brush to avoid spreading the urushiol to other parts of the body.
  • Wear light and comfortable clothing. Sweating can worsen the itching.
  • Apply cool compress over the affected areas.
  • Bathe in tepid water and colloidal oatmeal to help relieve itching.
  • Apply calamine and hydrocortisone creams also to help relieve itching.

How to Avoid Poison Ivy

The best way to avoid poison ivy plant when outdoors is to know its appearance. A poison ivy plant can be described as follows:

  • Usually found along riverbanks
  • Climbing, woody vine but sometimes appears as a shrub
  • Three pointed leaflets that changes colors according to the season
    • Spring: red
    • Summer: green
    • Fall: varying shades of red, yellow and orange

Poison ivy (T. radicans) has an urushiol resin that causes severe itching and reddening of the skin when it comes into contact with the skin.

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