While most people associate allergies with sniffling noses and watery eyes, another kind of allergy is the poison ivy reaction. This type of allergy is known as contact dermatitis.
Poison ivy is a plant with green glossy leaves, found in clusters of three. The shapes of these leaves can vary. Although a person's first contact with poison ivy may not cause many symptoms, 85% of individuals will develop an itchy skin reaction after several exposures. People often do not react immediately to poison ivy, and it may take 12 to 40 hours until the skin becomes red, itchy, and bumpy, eventually blistering.
The oily resin from the poison ivy plant, called urushiol, causes the itchiness associated with this allergic reaction. If you get the resin on you, wash it off immediately, as other areas that come in contact with the oil can also develop a reaction. Use soap and cold water to thoroughly rinse all exposed areas – including under your nails. Cold damp compresses soaked in aluminum acetate solution (Burow's solution), calamine lotion, and topical corticosteroids can help relieve the itch. If these treatments don't help, if large areas of the body are affected, or if you develop lots of blisters, contact your doctor.
Constant scratching won't spread the rash, as it only spreads through contact with the urushiol oil of poison ivy itself. Nor does breaking a blister cause spreading – but it may lead to a secondary infection. If the red, itchy rash spreads to your face or genitals or if you develop a fever, consult your doctor.
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