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Avoid the itch: Poison ivy and oak tips for summer

Hospital news | Friday, July 22, 2022

Those familiar with the outdoors know to avoid the tri-leaf vines known as poison ivy or poison oak. However, many people do not realize the oil from these allergenic plants can stay on clothes, tools, toys, etc. for up to a year. If the oil contacts our skin, it can quickly cause itching or a painful rash.

Ashtabula County Medical Center Family Medicine specialist Adeola Fakolade, MD, said she has seen an increase this year in patients with poison ivy or poison oak exposure.

“The sap from these vines contains urushiol, which is an allergen for nearly 85 percent of the U.S. population,” she said. “We may not even realize we’ve come in contact with the allergen because it gets on our clothes, shoes, or even our pets.”

Symptoms can appear within hours or up to two days after contact and include:

  • Itchy skin
  • Rash
  • Bumps or blisters that itch, break, and ooze fluid.
  • Swelling of the area of contact

A person should seek emergency care if they have breathed in smoke from burning poison ivy or oak as this can quickly cause difficulty breathing.

Dr. Fakolade added, “If the point of contact is near your eyes, mouth, or genitals, you should see your provider quickly, because swelling in these areas may cause other health concerns.”

Other reasons to see a provider include:

  • If this is your first allergic reaction to poison ivy or oak.
  • Itching that prevents you from sleeping.
  • Swelling beyond the point of contact.
  • Spreading rash.
  • If symptoms do not go away within 10 days.

In most cases, at-home treatments such as calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream can relieve skin irritation. For severe itching or swelling, your provider may prescribe a steroid cream, oral steroids, or antihistamine.

Dr. Fakolade cautioned that we should not treat an allergic reaction to poison ivy or oak lightly. “Serious health complications can occur if we are not cautious. Infection can occur from open blisters, or a person may have a systemic reaction to the urushiol, which causes the rash and swelling to spread throughout their body,” Dr. Fakolade said.

Dr. Fakolade sees patients at Ashtabula Family Health Center. To schedule an appointment, call 440-997-6969. ACMC Express Care features walk-in appointments Monday through Saturday, 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Telehealth appointments are available by calling 440-994-7550.