Poison Ivy

Poison ivy is a plant whose oil often causes a rash after direct exposure to the skin.  The rash may develop slowly over the course of a few days and often takes 2 weeks to fully resolve.

Poison ivy plant

Poison ivy is a plant identified by its ropey vine, fuzzy roots, and triad of leaves. The leaves vary in color by season beginning as a light yellow-green in the spring (or occasionally reddish green) to a deep shiny green in the summer, to an orange-red in the fall. No matter the color or season, poison ivy can cause a blistering rash when it comes in contact with the skin of people who are sensitive or allergic to the oily chemical on the poison ivy leaf.

Poison ivy rash

The rash is characterized by weeping blisters which often occur in a linear streak or patch. It may be accompanied by mild redness and swelling. Extreme itchiness is common. The rash usually occurs 1-3 days after exposure to the plant and typically lasts 2 weeks.  When poison ivy spreads for longer than 3 days, it is usually because your child continues to come in contact with the plants oils.  This may be because of unwashed bedding, clothing or lingering oil on the skin or under the fingernails.  The clear fluid in the blisters does not contribute to the spread of poison ivy.  The rash itself is not contagious.


  • Avoid areas where poison ivy is likely to grow, such as river banks and fields
  • If you’re in an area where you may come into contact with poison ivy, wearing socks and long pants helps prevent exposure
  • If you suspect you or your child may have come in contact with poison ivy, wash the area thoroughly with warm water and soap as soon as possible
  • Wash all clothing, bedding and shoes after exposure to poison ivy, as the oil may cause the rash to spread for weeks if not cleaned
  • Wash any pets after exposure as the oil can spread from fur to skin


Treatment of poison ivy is aimed at reducing the itch associated with the rash and possibly speeding up recovery time.

  • Oral diphenhydramine (Benadryl), topical calamine lotion and oatmeal baths may help temporarily reduce the itch associated with poison ivy, but will not help the rash heal
  • Topical Steroids – help reduce the itch and how long the rash may lasts. 1% hydrocortisone is available over the counter
  • Oral Steroids – occasionally oral steroids are used if the rash is severe, involves areas around the eyes or groin or based on your provider’s judgment.

Takeaway Message

Poison ivy is a plant whose oils cause and itchy rash.  The rash resolves without treatment in approximately 2 weeks, but there are ways to help reduce the itch and speed your child’s recovery.

When to Call

Call our office if the rash involves the face, groin or more than 25% of the body.  Also call our office if the rash is associated with severe redness, swelling, yellow discharge or if your child has a history of serious reactions to poison ivy.