Heading outside to spruce up the garden for the coming spring? You could be putting your skin at risk for a contact dermatitis rash or even poison ivy.

Heading outside to spruce up the garden for the coming spring? You could be putting your skin at risk for a contact dermatitis rash or even poison ivy.

The fact that you’ve not been allergic before unfortunately is not a guarantee that you won’t get it this time.

Contact dermatitis is a rash that occurs when an allergy-causing substance touches the skin. In the case of poison ivy, the cause is an oily resin called urushiol. This same substance is found in poison ivy, poison sumac and poison oak.

Here in Hampton Roads, poison ivy is most common. It can cause the skin to turn red, develop a rash with blisters and be very itchy. The rash is often in straight lines.

How to prevent it?

1.     Avoid touching the poison ivy plants. The oil that causes this rash are in the leaves, stems, and the roots, so no part of the plant is safe to handle. 

2.     Spray the plants with chemical agents designed to kill poison ivy and let the plant die rather than pulling it out.

What is the timing?

1.     The rash usually starts 1-3 days after the exposure.

2.     Generally the rash can last for 1-2 weeks. If the rash persists more than 2 weeks, see your physician. 

What can I do if I realize that I’ve touched a plant of poison ivy?  Is it too late to do anything?

1.   Wash the area with soap and water right away.  While this doesn’t necessarily prevent the rash, it often makes it less severe.

2.   Remove and wash all exposed clothing, even shoes. The oils can remain active for longer than a year on clothing, so exposures can even occur from garden gloves or boots worn last year.

Are there treatments for poison ivy once you get it?

Yes. For mild cases, over the counter topical steroids such as hydrocortisone cream 1% used 2-3 times daily can be helpful in combination with oatmeal soaks. Antihistamines sold OTC can also help. Stronger topical and systemic steroids, which require a prescription, can also be very helpful. 

How do I know if I need to see my dermatologist or primary care physician?

  • If the rash is severe or widespread
  • If the rash involves the eyes, mouth, or genitals
  • If the rash developed as a result of burning poison ivy
  • If the blisters develop pus
  • If you have a fever greater than 100 degrees

Every gardener should know what poison ivy plants look like, so that they can avoid touching it. When in doubt, don’t pull it out! EVMS Dermatology would be happy to help if you have any questions. 

To schedule an appointment call 757.446.5629