Q: My son has already had poison ivy twice this year. Do you have any pointers for preventing poison ivy? Are any over-the-counter medications useful for treating poison ivy? How do we know when to see a doctor?
Poison ivy contains uroshiol oil. As many as 85 percent of people are allergic to urushiol and will develop a rash after contact with poison ivy. You can also get a rash from indirect contact with poison ivy, if the plant resin is on a pet, clothing or camping equipment, for example.
The rash typically will appear about 12 hours after exposure and may worsen or progress over the next several days.
To prevent poison ivy, it is important to be able to identify and avoid the plant.Remember the phrase, Leaves of three, beware of me. If poison ivy cannot be avoided, then wear long pants, long sleeves and gloves, and consider applying a barrier cream such as bentoquatum.
If your son comes into contact with poison ivy, he should wash the area with cold water (and soap if available) immediately to remove the oil from the skin. If a rash develops, oatmeal baths, calamine lotion or Burrows solution may be helpful for symptomatic relief. Creams and ointments that contain benzocaine, zirconium or antihistamines should be avoided because some people are allergic to these ingredients. Oral antihistamines, such as Benadryl, may help relieve itching.
Seek medical treatment if the rash is widespread, near the eyes, if he or she has an underlying skin condition such as eczema or psoriasis or if the rash is not resolving after a week. More information about poison ivy is available at aad.org.