Poison Ivy

A huge part of summertime fun is playing outside. Naturally curious, most children love to explore overgrown areas of the yard or park. Unfortunately, poison ivy thrives in these areas. The rash that develops after exposure to poison ivy is a contact dermatitis to the chemical urushiol and can usually be treated symptomatically with home remedies.

Prior to summertime excursions, look at pictures of poison ivy and teach children to avoid it. Tell your children to count the leaves on plants and look for the “three, almond shaped, sharp-teeth leaves” that are classic for poison ivy. Dress your child in protective clothing – long pants, shirts, and shoes with socks for outdoor adventures.

If  your child comes into contact with the plant and you notice prior to the rash appearing, wash the area well with soap and water. Remove the clothing that your child was wearing and wash it in hot water.

If the urushiol absorbs into the skin, a red, itchy, blistering rash may appear. It usually appears in straight lines because of the way the plant comes into contact with the skin, but may be diffuse and appear spreading. The rash does not spread with itching or breaking the blisters, but if your child’s skin comes into contact with urushiol again (from clothes/pets/repeat exposure), it will continue to spread. Urushiol will continue to occupy any surface if it is not washed off, including dead poison ivy plants.

Home remedies to try if your child develops a rash:

1) Cool oatmeal baths

2) Calamine lotion

3) Vaseline

4) Cool compresses

If itching is severe and keeping your child from sleeping you may try diphenhydramine (Benadryl) or 1% hydrocortisone cream to the red areas.

The rash typically lasts 1-2 weeks, but may last as long as 8 weeks, depending on how your child’s skin absorbs the urushiol and reacts to it.

The rash may become infected with bacteria if you child is itching it, so seek medical care if they develop fever, yellow or white drainage, yellow crusting, severe swelling or warmth to the area. Also, your child may require strong antihistamines or oral steroids if the rash spreads to the face, mouth, eyes, genitals or involves the entire body.

Heather Joyce, MD

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