A poison ivy rash is very bad news. It can cause painful itching, make body parts swell, even cause difficulty in breathing. In its most extreme, it can cause death if not immediately treated.
Basically, it’s the oily toxin in poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac (and in other plants belonging to the same family) that causes these potentially deadly allergic reactions. It is called urushiol and is found in the leaves, stems, roots, including vines. When a person comes in contact with these, the urushiol is transferred to the body. It would be very unfortunate for the person who may be allergic to poison ivy. Many people are, especially children. Poison ivy in children is a parent’s nightmare.
Not everyone is affected by poison ivy, but everyone could potentially be the “carriers” of the toxin.
How Urushiol Spreads
Poison ivy rashes spread to others because urushiol does. Even if one person comes in contact with poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac, there’s a chance that the toxic oil from the plant is brought home. Whether they get it from hiking, camping or trekking, people get rashes and come home with red, angry and itchy welts all over. Anyone can get exposed to poison ivy directly or indirectly.
- It may not touch the skin directly, but clothes and gears may come in contact with the poison ivy plant. Naturally, the toxin will soon touch the skin. If someone unknowingly comes in contact with the plant, she or he may even spread the toxin to other people.
- Camping Gear / Equipment. Enjoying the wilderness while camping and hiking are all done at eye level. We get caught up in the scenery that we forget to watch where we step, put our gear down or where we set the tent up. If you came into contact with toxic plants, just assume even your camping gear got the ‘itchy’ (Urushiol) oil on it.
- If places surrounding the home are not examined, kids might touch or trip on poison ivy. They or anyone who is not aware of what poison ivy looks like can also spread the toxin simply by touching things, or sitting or lying down. Other people will touch these things or sit and lie on the same chairs and beds.
- Animals, dogs in particular, love to romp around yards. They are immune to poison ivy, but their fur can bring the poison into the homes. Pet and hug the animals and chances are, the itchiness will start.
- Shoes- People who didn’t spot the toxic plant right away may have stepped on some too.
- Urushiol may be airborne. If someone either unsuspectingly or intentionally burns a pile of plants, there could be poison ivy, oak or sumac there. The air can carry the toxin and reach miles. When the poison attacks, the person being attacked would not have any idea why or what hit him/her. Urushiol won’t go away through burning and it stays for years in the leaves, stems, and all other parts of the plant.
How to Prevent, Remedy, and Treat Poison Ivy Rash
Should one or a loved one develops rashes due to contact with the said plants, apply any poison ivy rash treatment, poison oak treatment, or poison sumac treatment methods below. Also check out these tips to prevent getting the rash or keep it from spreading all over your body.
- Cleanse the skin with poison ivy wash or cleanser like Zanfel or Tecnu. You can also use soap (like dishwashing soap) and cool water within five to 10 minutes. Cleanse with alcohol, if need be.
- If you are exposed to poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac, DO NOT touch anything else, unless you need to. If you are not sure when you touched poison ivy during the trip, DO NOT bring anything inside the house – keep it in the car. At this point, warn your family that you have touched poison ivy and that you’d need a big plastic sheet to stand on and a garbage bag to put your clothes in. It would be best to strip articles of clothing before setting foot in your home. Better ask for a used towel too, best to keep covered when in public ;).
- Wash clothes that may have come in contact with the poison ivy. Use warm water and detergent or wash it off with Tecnu poison ivy cleanser. To keep the rashes from spreading, anyone (even you) handling your contaminated clothes should be wearing disposable gloves.
- Hiking shoes have these heavy duty soles and whatever you stepped on will get lodged in the treads. Glove up and wash off remnants of poison ivy from the soles using laundry detergent, very warm water and a bristle brush in a basin.
- Camping gear made of performance fabric may be trickier to clean. Fels-Naptha soap is abrasive and the ash in the soap absorbs the urushiol from the fabric. You can wash your gear in your tub, washing machine or be safe in a basin out back. Just make sure that you clean the tub with a cleaner and give it a good scrubbing before rinsing it. If you ran it through the washer, be sure to do an extra load with only bleach to give the tub a good rinse.
- Over the counter poison ivy treatment is also available. Apply calamine lotion or corticosteroid cream, pills, liquids, or injections on affected areas to relieve itch.
- Take cold baths, not warm because warm temperature only intensifies the allergies. Try an oatmeal or baking soda bath.
- Bathe the pets with mild soap and warm water (not too warm, of course!). Tecnu can be used to wash off poison ivy from the pet‘s fur.
- Bring the patient to the doctor if the rashes and swelling become too much. Redness and swelling of the face and genitalia are already indications. Don’t wait till the patient feels difficulty in breathing.
- The best way to prevent poison ivy rash is stay away from areas where poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac grow.
- Start taking oral ivy before the growing season. Take 3 to 5 drops of Oral Ivy in a small glass of water daily by mouth 7 to 14 days before exposure and continue throughout the poison ivy season. To treat poison ivy symptoms, put 10 drops of oral ivy in 2 ounces of water every 2 hours as needed. As symptoms improve, reduce it to once every 4 hours, then twice daily until symptoms disappear. Place drops under tongue in 2 ounces of water at least 15 minutes before or half hour after eating, brushing teeth or drinking anything except water.
- Get rid of poison ivy plant in your yard and around your home. Remember to wear protective clothing when doing so to avoid getting urushiol to your skin. Combating poison ivy may not be an easy task but there are poison ivy killer products that are effective in ridding it. Properly dispose the poisonous plant and do not burn poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac. Inhalation of fumes from burning poison ivy can cause rashes to appear all over the body, including inside the mouth, on the lips, and other areas, depending on the extent of one’s exposure to the fumes.
How Poison Ivy Rash Spread Around the Body and Why It Keeps Spreading ?
If rashes seem to be spreading around the body, it could be due to three things:
- It may seem that it is spreading but it is only that the rashes are only manifesting now. Affected parts may have come in contact with poison ivy and are belatedly showing the rashes.
- It’s not the blisters’ fluids that are causing the spread. It is just a common poison ivy myth. The patient’s own fingers have been spreading the toxin around his/her body. Touch an affected part here, touch an unaffected part there…Get the picture?
- You keep getting urushiol to your skin through indirect contact. You are not able to wash off poison ivy oil irritant entirely from your clothing, shoes, outdoor gear, and gardening tools. Urushiol can stay active for years, so every time you get the oil irritant from items that may have come in contact with the plant, the rash will spread. So it’s important to wash all the items that may have been exposed to poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac.
In relation to the second cause and as a prevention, make sure to wash the patient’s hands thoroughly. Wash with poison ivy cleansers. Wash under the fingernails to get to the oil that’s stuck there. Cut the nails, if it calls for it.
Keep in mind to seek medical attention if you have symptoms like difficulty in breathing, poison ivy rash spreading to genitals, swelling of the face, mouth, neck or genital. The more extreme reaction is Systemic poison ivy, which causes swelling of the body. If the face gets bloated and the eyes are forced shut by this, that’s already severe.
The most important thing to remember is when someone comes into contact with poison ivy, immediately take measures. Do not wait for the allergic reactions. Nip them in the bud and there’ll be lesser problems ahead.