Poison Ivy: Leaves of 3, Let It Be


While you’re enjoying the warm summer months outside, you should be on the lookout for poison ivy. Poison ivy is a plant that can be found throughout much of the United States. It can grow as a vine or a shrub and is commonly found in open fields, wooded areas, streams, and hiking trails. A telltale characteristic of poison ivy are the leaves that grow in clusters of three.


As soon as you suspect that you’ve been in contact with poison ivy, immediately wash the affected area with mild soap. Zanfel and Technu cleanser are over-the-counter products that can help wash away the urushiol, the oily substance in poison ivy that is responsible for causing a rash. Once a person comes in contact with poison ivy, a rash will develop in about 12-48 hours. Washing off the oil as soon as possible will help reduce the severity of the rash. The rash that forms will appear streaky with blisters and may be itchy, inflamed, oozy, and scaly. The rash will naturally resolve itself within 10-21 days.


Once the poison ivy rash has formed, there are a few over-the-counter treatments and non-drug measures that can be tried. Hydrocortisone cream and/or oral Benadryl can help reduce the itching associated with the rash. Hydrocortisone cream can be applied topically to the affected area 2-4 times a day for up to 7 days. Benadryl may make some people sleepy, which could help increase your comfort at bedtime. Applying calamine lotion or compresses with Burow’s solution may help reduce the size of oozing vesicles. If the rash is present near the eyes, is not getting better after 7 days of self-treatment, or is impairing your daily activities, you may need to go to your doctor. Your doctor may need to write a prescription for an oral steroid medication like prednisone or methylprednisolone to treat the rash.


There are a few common misconceptions about poison ivy. Scratching the rash will not spread poison ivy, but rather it can create open wounds, increasing the risk of getting a secondary infection. Unwashed contaminated hands and fingers can transfer urushiol to other parts of the body and other individuals, causing the rash to spread. Additionally, the rash that forms is not contagious. The fluid in the rash does not contain urushiol and so you cannot spread the rash to others if they come in contact with it.


There are measures you can take to protect yourself from poison ivy:

  • Wear protective clothing whenever you are outside.
  • Apply IvyBlock lotion to exposed areas prior to visiting places with a high likelihood of poison ivy. IvyBlock is FDA approved to protect against exposure to poison ivy.
  • Wash the affected area as soon as possible with soap and water.
  • Take a shower instead of a bath, using soap and water to wash off areas exposed to poison ivy.
  • Wash all clothes exposed to poison ivy separately with detergent and hot water.


For more information, speak with one of our friendly pharmacists or visit:


Nothing herein constitutes medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, or is a substitute for professional advice.  You should always seek the advice of your physician or other medical professional if you have questions or concerns about a medical condition.






©Ji-In Min, PharmD Candidate 2019 / Dexter Pharmacy 2017

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