Poison Ivy Rash – Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

In this article we will discuss what poison ivy is, how to identify the plant and how to treat the rash.

Summer is here and families are spending more time outdoors.  The following scenario can happen to anyone. You return home from camping in the woods. Suddenly your child develops a mysterious rash on his leg. You have no idea what it is or how he got it.  How do you determine if the rash was caused by the poison ivy plant?  What can you do about it? We will answer all those questions.

What is Poison Ivy?

Poison ivy or toxicodendron radicans, is a poisonous Asian and Eastern North American flowering plant.  This plant is known to cause an itchy, irritating and sometimes painful rash called urushiol- induced contact dermatitis.  The rash is caused by urushiol (you-ROO-shee-all), a clear liquid compound found in the plant’s sap.  Toxicodendron radicans varies in appearance and habit.   It is not a true ivy, but rather a member of the cashew and pistachio family.

How do you identify poison ivy?

Poison ivy has four main characteristics.

  1. clusters of three leaflets
  2. alternate leaf arrangement
  3. lack of thorns
  4. each group of three leaflets grows on its own stem

Toxicodendron radicans can be found throughout much of the US and parts of Canada east of the Rocky Mountains. It usually grows in wooded areas, especially along the edge of forests where the tree line breaks and sunshine filters through.  You can also find it in exposed rocky areas, open fields, and disturbed areas.

Poison ivy can grow into a shrub up to about four feet tall, as a ground cover, 3-9 inches high or as a climbing vine.

How to Identify Poison Ivy

What does poison ivy look like on the skin?

When urushiol from the toxicodendron radicans plant comes in contact with the skin it can cause severe itching. After that red bumps appear on the skin. These bumps then turn into large painful blisters.

Urushiol induced contact dermatitisUrushiol induced contact dermatitis from toxicodendron radicans.

What are the early signs of poison ivy?

The rash often does not appear until 12-72 hours after you come in contact with urushiol.  The first sign is itchy skin.  After that, you develop redness or red streaks.  The red streaks then turns into hives and swelling.  After the swelling you will experience an outbreak of small or large blisters, often forming streaks or lines.  Once the blisters burst your skin will begin to crust.

How do you treat poison ivy?

Blisters from the poison ivy rash may be treated with calamine lotion, Burrow’s solution compresses, dedicated commercial poison ivy creams, itch creams or baths. Over the counter products can help ease the itching.  Dermatologists are now recommending oatmeal baths and baking soda.

There is a new plant based remedy used to treat urushiol-induced contact dermatitis.  This remedy is called jewelweed. Mash made from the living plant is effective in reducing urushiol dermatitis.

How long does it take for poison ivy to go away?

The rash should go away in a few weeks.  If it takes longer or you or your child experiences severe swelling go and see a doctor right away. If you have trouble breathing or swallowing, go to an emergency room immediately.

Is poison ivy contagious?

The poison ivy rash is not contagious and it does not spread.


If you or your child comes in contact with toxicodendron radicans don’t panic.  The rash is treatable and will go away in a few weeks. There are several different creams on the market that you can use on the blisters.  Most urushiol-induced contact dermatitis cases do not require a doctor’s visit.


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Poison Ivy Rash – Symptoms, Causes and Treatment