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Poison Ivy and Children

What is poison ivy?

There are 3 native American plants that collectively may be called poison ivy:

  • Poison ivy

  • Poison oak

  • Poison sumac

To be allergic to poison ivy, your child must first be sensitized to the plant's oils. This means that later contact with the plant may result in a rash. Most people are allergic to poison ivy. 

What causes an allergic reaction?

The resin in the plants contains an oily substance called urushiol. Urushiol is easily transferred from the plants to other objects, including toys, garments, and animals. This chemical can remain active for a year or longer. It is important to know that the oils can also be transferred from clothing or pets. It can be present in the smoke from a burning plant.

What are the symptoms of an allergic reaction to poison ivy?

The reaction is contact dermatitis. This usually happens 24 to 48 hours after exposure. The dermatitis is characterized by a rash followed by bumps and blisters that itch. Sometimes, swelling happens in the area of contact. Eventually, the blisters break, ooze, and then crust over.

Treatment for poison ivy

Making sure your child avoids the poisonous plants is the best treatment. It is important to teach your children what the plants look like and not to touch them. Poison ivy has 3 leaves; thus the saying, "Leaves of 3, let it be."

If contact with the plants has already happened, you should remove the oils from the skin as soon as possible by cleansing with an ordinary soap. Repeat the cleaning with the soap 3 times. There are also alcohol-based wipes that help remove the oils. Wash all clothes and shoes also, because the oils can remain on these. You may use calamine lotion or oatmeal baths to help soothe itching. Over-the-counter 1% hydrocortisone cream or antihistamines may also help if itching is more severe.  

If your child inhaled smoking from a burning poisonous plant, has a fever, or the blisters and rash are on the face, near the genitals, or all over the body, your child's health care provider should be called. After a medical history and physical examination, your child's health care provider may prescribe a steroid cream, oral steroids, or steroid injections to help stop the inflammation that leads to the swelling and itching.

Is poison ivy contagious?

Poison ivy cannot be spread from person to person by touching the blisters, or from the fluid inside the blisters. It can be spread, however, if the oils remain on the skin, clothes, or shoes. This is why washing your child's hands, clothes, and shoes as soon as possible is very important.

Preventing poison ivy

Here are some ways to prevent poison ivy:

  • Teach all family members to recognize the plants.

  • Make sure your child wears long pants and long sleeves when poison ivy or poison oak is in the area.

  • Wash all clothes and shoes immediately after your child has been outside.

  • Make sure your child does not touch a pet that might have been in contact with a poisonous plant.

  • Wash your child's hands thoroughly.

  • Do not burn the poison ivy plant

Poison Ivy and Children - WellSpan Health

Online Medical Reviewer: Berman, Kevin, MD, PhD
Online Medical Reviewer: Freeborn, Donna, PhD, CNM, FNP
Last Review Date: 2015-05-05T00:00:00
Last Modified Date: 2015-07-02T00:00:00
Posting Date: 2008-11-30T00:00:00
Published Date: 2015-07-02T00:00:00
Last Review Date: 2007-03-30T00:00:00
© 2015 WellSpan Health. All Rights Reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

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