Antihistamines such as Zyrtec and Allegra help with symptom relief and usually do not cause drowsiness. 1% hydrocortisone cream 2-3 times per day improves mild itch.
Serious reactions, however, require treatment. You need to see a physician if the itch is severe, continues for more than a few weeks, spreads over most of the body, or is associated with swelling of the eyes or face. An uncommon complication of poison ivy is an infection, which is usually accompanied by fever and pus, pain, or warmth of the affected skin. If any of these develop, you should definitely schedule an appointment to see your doctor. I often prescribe patients topical steroids stronger than the ones available over-the-counter to make them more comfortable and help speed healing. If the rash is extensive or unusually severe, systemic steroids like prednisone may be needed, however, there are potential side effects to these oral medications.
Please be aware that if the rash is only on one side of your body, and is limited to one arm, leg or part of your trunk, particularly if it has a burning or painful sensation, you may have shingles and not poison ivy. Please call your dermatologist or primary care M.D. immediately.
Is Poison Ivy Rash Contagious?
One thing that you do not need to worry about is passing the rash on. The rash is not contagious and does not spread from one area to another once you have taken a shower, which rinses off the uroshiol oil from your skin. Always throw clothes you suspect may have touched poison ivy directly in the washer so the oil does not touch other people or pets. While it might seem like the rash is spreading, this is a delayed response to the initial poison ivy exposure. Unfortunately, by the time the rash appears, the damage has already been done! Scratching does not make the rash spread, but it may irritate the skin and increase the chances of infection or other complications.
How Can I Prevent Poison Ivy Rash?
Patients (and parents of patients!) often ask me how to prevent the rash associated with poison ivy. Obviously, the most effective preventive measure is to stay away from the plant that causes it. These plants are found all over the United States. Typical locations include the woods surrounding your house, in the garden, and along the side of the road. Both poison ivy and poison oak grow in clusters of three leaves. Poison sumac, however, has long oval leaves in clusters of 7-13 leaves angled upward on a stem. The saying “Leaves of three, let them be” should help remind you how to identify the plant, but unfortunately unless you moonlight as a botanist, it isn’t always easy to tell. Also, the stems and roots of the plant can cause a rash even without leaves, making it difficult to avoid when clearing brush in the fall.
*Individual Results May Vary*