Poison Ivy FAQ’s

Even after reading some of our comprehensive poison ivy articles, you may still have some questions about this dreadful rash.

Below are some of the most often asked questions we receive about poison ivy, and our answers. We may go into deeper detail about much of this elsewhere on our site, and we’ll link you there if we can.

What is poison ivy?

Well, the scientfic name is Toxicodendron Radicans, from the plant family Anacardiaceae. It’s a a woody vine that produces a skin irritant called urushiol, which causes an urushiol-induced contact dermatitis – in other words an itchy rash.

How do you get poison ivy?

By coming in contact with it, usually by touching some part of the plant. The leaves aren’t the only thing poisonous, even in the winter you can get it by touching the root itself. In fact, the vine itself is the worst part – lots of urushiol in it. It’s even possible to get it in your lungs by burning it, which is very dangerous. Even coming in contact with a dog, for example, that came in contact with poison ivy can lead to contraction of the rash.

What does poison ivy look like?

An ivy bush with 3 almond shaped light or dark green leafs, though in the fall they turn bright red. The leaflets are usually shiney, especially in mature poison ivy and have a smooth surface with little to no teeth along the edge. The plant itself has no thorns. The vine has a hairy texture and often has white or milky white berries. This description inspired rhymes such as “Hair vine, no friend of mine” and “Leaves of three, let it be.” Pictures can be found here.

What do poison ivy rashes look like?

Like a typical red rash, but often much worse. It’s common to see blistering and swelling, which can sometimes get quite severe. Fortunately, poison ivy rashes rarely leave scars, just be careful not to scratch the swelling area too much.

Can you become immune to poison ivy?

Some people can, around 25% of people actually have the ability to build up a strong resistance to poison ivy with repeated exposures. Then again, another 25% won’t build any immunity at all. It’s because the rash is caused by an allergic reaction, so it takes different amounts of urushiol oil depending on the person. It doesn’t take much in most any case though. Take precautions to prevent getting poison ivy at all, which is more valuable than immunity in our opinion.

What are the symptoms of poison ivy?

Most folks don’t even know they came in contact with poison ivy, and usually notice just a small rash somehwere on an exposed part of their body. Over a few hours or days, especially with scratching, it will get progressivly worse and spread.

How long does the poison ivy rash last?

If left untreated, it will usually run it’s course in a week or two. If it gets infected however, it could get much worse and require antibiotics. This is usually caused by excessive scratching.

What can you do to treat poison ivy?

Antihistamines and hydrocortisone creams can often help with the symptoms of a poison ivy rash, with steroids such as Prednisone being prescribed to stimulate the immune system being prescribed in severe cases. There are also a few home remedies that are sometimes known to work; such extreme heat, calamine lotion and Jewelweed.

Is poison ivy contagious?

Yes, very contagious – at least until the affected area is washed. Once the urushiol oil and resin is washed from the skin it’s no longer contagious, though until then urushiol can remain active for up to 2 years. Urushiol does not spread once it has bound with the skin, and contrary to popular belief it’s not found in blisters. So, once you take a bath, you probably won’t be able to pass it to someone else.

Where does poison ivy grow?

Pretty much everywhere except the far west like California, the desert and high altitudes. You’ll usually find poison oak in those areas. It’s common to find poison ivy bushes along roadsides and treelines.

Are there different types of poison ivy?

Yes, two types actually though they’re quite similar so we don’t focus on the differences. Essentially there’s the climbing (toxicodendron radicans) and non-climbing (toxicodendron rydbergii) variety.