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Poison Ivy Rash

The rash and itching that you have is a delayed reaction to the oils of the poison ivy plant. You probably came in contact with it during the 3 days before your symptoms began. Your skin will become red and itchy. Small blisters may appear. These can break and leak a clear yellow fluid. This fluid is not contagious to others. The reaction usually starts to go away after 1 to 2 weeks. But it may take 4 to 6 weeks to fully clear.

Home care

Follow these guidelines when caring for yourself at home:

  • The plant oils still on your skin or clothes can be spread to other places on your body. They can also be passed on to other people and cause a similar reaction. That’s why it’s important to wash all of the plant oils off your skin and any clothes that may have been exposed. Several over-the-counter products are available over the counter to do this. The products can be used before or after the rash appears. You can often get relief from itching, redness, and swelling within minutes after the first treatment. A second treatment 24 hours later may be needed.

  • Don't use over-the-counter creams that have neomycin or bacitracin. These may make the rash worse.

  • Wash all clothes that you were wearing in hot water with ordinary laundry detergent.

  • Avoid anything that heats up your skin. This includes hot showers or baths, or direct sunlight. These can make itching worse.

  • Put a cold compress on areas that are weeping or blistered areas. Do this for 30 minutes 3 times a day. You can make a compress by dipping a facial cloth in a mixture of 1 pint of cold water and 1 packet of astringent or oatmeal bath powder. Keep the solution in the refrigerator for future use.

  • If large areas of skin are involved, you may take a lukewarm bath with 1 cup of cornstarch added to the water.

  • For a rash in a smaller area, use hydrocortisone cream for redness and irritation, unless another medicine was prescribed. For severe itching, put an ice compress on the area. You can also use benzocaine anesthetic cream or spray.

  • You can also use an oral antihistamine medicine with diphenhydramine for itching, unless another medicine was prescribed. Use lower doses during the daytime and higher doses at bedtime because the drug may make you sleepy. Don’t use medicine containing diphenhydramine if you have glaucoma. Also don’t use it if you are a man with trouble urinating because of an enlarged prostate. Antihistamines containing loratidine cause less drowsiness and are a good alternative for daytime use.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your health care provider if your rash gets worse or you are not starting to get better after 1 week of treatment.

When to seek medical advice

Call your health care provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Severe swelling in the face, eyelids, mouth, throat, or tongue

  • Spreading facial rash with swelling of mouth or eyelids

  • Rash that spreads to the groin and causes swelling of the penis, scrotum, or vaginal area

  • Difficulty urinating because of swelling in the genital area

Also call your provider if you have signs of infection in the areas of broken blisters:

  • Spreading redness

  • Pus or fluid draining from the blisters

  • Yellow-brown crusts form over the open blisters

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38ºC) or higher, or as directed by your health care provider 

 

 
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