Poison ivy is a vine or shrub that has three glossy leaves and grows in much of the United States and Asia. It can cause an itchy, red rash if a person who’s allergic to the plant encounters it.
While not all people experience a rash after coming in contact with poison ivy, most do — an estimated 85 percent. Read on to learn about how you can and can’t get a poison ivy rash, and if you have to come in contact with the plant directly in order to feel the effects.
A poison ivy rash is the result of exposure to an oily resin known as urushiol. This sticky resin is present in the leaves, stems, and roots of the poison ivy plant. The same oil is also present in plants like poison oak and poison sumac.
When your skin comes in contact with this oil, you may experience a rash. The rash is itchy and usually causes redness and blistering. Sometimes the rash can take several days to develop. Find pictures of the rash here.
A poison ivy rash can’t be spread from person to person. For example, if a person has a poison ivy rash on their hands or arms and shakes the hand or touches another person, the person without poison ivy won’t get it. However, there are some scenarios where a poison ivy rash can be spread. These include:
A pet, such as a dog or cat, can encounter poison ivy leaves and the oils can stick on their fur. If you pet the fur, it’s possible that you can get poison ivy from contact with the oil. The same is true for a pet’s leash.
Just like animal fur, clothing fibers can transfer poison ivy oils. If you don’t wash an article of clothing with soap and water after wearing it, you can potentially get a rash of poison ivy again. The same is true for coming in contact with other people’s clothing that also has the poison ivy oils on it.
Garden and outdoor tools
Even if you wear gloves to protect your hands from poison ivy while gardening or working outdoors, the poison ivy oils can spread to the tools. If you then touch the tools without cleaning them, you can get poison ivy. The oils can linger on tools for years if they aren’t cleaned with soap and water or rubbing alcohol.
In addition to gardening tools, your recreational equipment can encounter poison ivy and cause you to get a rash. Examples include golf clubs, hiking poles, or bicycles.
Because it can sometimes take days for a poison ivy rash to appear, you may have unknowingly come in contact with it indirectly through this equipment, then get a rash.
A poison ivy skin reaction occurs where the leaves and the oil come in contact with your skin. The rash isn’t contagious from place to place on your body. For example, if you have the rash on your hands, you can’t spread it to your legs or abdomen through touch. An exception is if you haven’t washed your hands or body after exposure and the oil remains on your skin.
However, it’s possible that you may observe the rash spreading. This is because the rash can develop more slowly on different parts of the body. Also, if you are repeatedly exposed to contaminated objects, such as clothing with poison ivy oil on it, you can experience a poison ivy rash again.
There are several steps you can take to keep a poison ivy rash from spreading. Examples of these measures include:
- washing skin with soap and lukewarm water after exposure
- washing all clothing with soap and water after exposure
- washing any gardening or outdoor equipment with soap and water or rubbing alcohol after exposure
- regularly bathing pets that go outdoors, especially if they may have come in contact with poison ivy oil
Remember that a poison ivy rash doesn’t spread from person to person or place to place on a person’s body. So, if you get the rash again after an initial exposure, it’s important to consider if you may have indirectly come in contact with a pet or object that’s still contaminated with the urushiol.
Although a poison ivy rash usually lasts about one to three weeks, the poison ivy oil can last years on surfaces that haven’t been cleaned. Also, if for any reason a person burns poison ivy leaves, the oil can travel through air and cause a rash in the nasal passages or other airways.
For these reasons, ensure that you clean your skin, clothes, pets, and any outdoor equipment to avoid re-exposure to poison ivy and developing a bothersome rash again.