You Are At: AllSands Home > Health > Advice > Poison ivy plant: symptoms and treatment
Americans have suffered from poison ivy since the early settlers first broke ground here. And, centuries later, there is still no reliable cure for the itching, rash, and blisters it causes.

A substance called urushiol, found in the leaves, stems and roots of the plant, is the toxin that is responsible for the allergic reaction we suffer. Research conducted by the American Academy of Dermatology suggests that greater than 85 percent of the population is sensitive to urushiol, making it one of the most powerful allergens known to man. Urushiol is transferred to the body upon contact with the plant, and, within hours, bonds chemically with the skin. After this window of time has closed, no amount of scrubbing or washing will lessen the chance of a reaction. So, it’s important to react quickly if you know you’ve come into contact with poison ivy or poison oak. Immediately wash the area with soap and copious amounts of water; a long shower is probably the best avoidance tactic.

Once the rash has started, home remedies like applications of kerosene, nail polish, or hairspray are useless. In fact, they may further irritate the skin and make it susceptible to infection. To relieve the itch, calamine lotion and over-the-counter cortisone creams are helpful, as are long, hot soaks.

One of the greatest myths about poison ivy is that one person can transfer the rash to other places on his body, or even to the body of an another person. This is NOT true! The bodily fluid that accumulates at the site of blisters is just that – bodily fluid. It is harmless. The notion that the rash can ‘spread’ across the body probably results from the fact that the areas that received the greatest amount of exposure will break out first, with areas receiving less exposure reacting later.

In severe cases, such as when large areas of skin are covered by oozing blisters, a visit to the doctor may be warranted. Dermatologists in particular are often willing to treat the reaction systemically with a few days of cortisone pills; general practitioners may prescribe a prescription cortisone cream.

Where poison ivy grows near homes and play areas, there are a few safe ways to eradicate it. Young shoots can be pulled, wearing disposable gloves, and disposed of in plastic bags. Wash your hands thoroughly afterward! There are also chemical treatments, available at garden centers, that kill the plant down to the roots, eliminating the chances of it growing back.