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Poison ivy rash is caused by an allergic reaction to an oily resin called urushiol. It’s found in poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac. This oily resin is very sticky, so it easily attaches to your skin, clothing, tools, equipment and pet’s fur. You can get a poison ivy reaction from:

  • Touching the plant. If you touch the leaves, stem, roots or berries of the plant, you may have a reaction.
  • Touching contaminated objects. If you walk through some poison ivy and then later touch your shoes, you might get urushiol on your hands. You might then transfer it to your face or body by touching or rubbing. If the contaminated object isn’t cleaned, the urushiol on it can still cause a skin reaction years later.
  • Inhaling smoke from the burning plants. Even the smoke from burning poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac can irritate or harm your nasal passages or lungs. ¹

The rash that results from the poison plants is a form of allergic contact dermatitis. (Dermatitis is swelling and irritation of the skin.) Skin is not automatically sensitive to urushiol. Sensitivity builds up after the skin is exposed to the substance. When initially exposed to urushiol, the skin alerts the immune system of the presence of the irritating chemical. However, it’s common for no visible reaction will occur the first time a person comes in contact with a poison plant. The immune system then prepares a defensive reaction for the next time the skin encounters the substance. This sensitizes the skin so that new contact with urushiol causes an allergic reaction. ²

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What Are the Symptoms of a Poison Plant Reaction?

The symptoms of a poison plant reaction are similar, because they all contain the same chemical, urushiol. Symptoms generally occur in the following phases:

    1. The skin becomes red and itchy.
  1. A rash erupts on the skin, often in a pattern of streaks or patches from where the plant has come into contact with the skin.
  2. The rash develops into red bumps, called papules, or large, oozing blisters.

You should learn how to spot poison ivy — the three-leafed, ground-dwelling, viney plant — and try to avoid contact with it as much as possible. According to the American Skin Association, about 10% to 15% of people are extremely allergic to poison ivy, and should see a doctor if they touch the plant.

However, there are home remedy that can help alleviate the itchiness of a poison ivy rash and allow it to heal faster, and most people will not need medical attention.

Aloe vera gels or creams can reduce the hot, swollen skin of a poison ivy rash (as with a sunburn).

Studies have found that aloe does not speed the healing process. However, aloe has a soothing, cooling effect that may offer temporary relief from burning and itching. ³

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When to Get Immediate Attention

If you notice any of the following, seek emergency care:

  • Fever higher than 100 degrees F
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • Many blisters or blisters oozing yellow fluid
  • Rash that covers large areas
  • Irritation in sensitive areas like eyes and mouth ₄

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