Poison ivy can affect your eyes and eyelids, but it won’t cause blindness. You can likely manage the rash with home remedies or over-the-counter medications. But an infection or severe swelling may require a trip to the doctor.
If you enjoy spending time outdoors, you may come in contact with poison ivy at some point. If you’re allergic to it, you typically develop a rash on your skin where the sap of the plant has touched it.
While it’s unlikely that you would rub up against a poison ivy vine with your eyelids, you can develop an allergic reaction on or in your eyes after coming into contact with the plant and touching your face. Your eyes may also react to smoke from burnt poison ivy.
Read on to learn about the symptoms of poison ivy on and in your eyes. We’ll also cover at-home and medical treatments you can use to reduce discomfort.
Poison ivy contains a type of sap called urushiol oil. It’s this oil that causes the itching, burning, and painful rash associated with poison ivy. Unless you wash it off thoroughly, urushiol oil indefinitely remains on anything it comes into contact with.
If urushiol oil is on your hands or under your fingernails, you can inadvertently spread it to your eyes if you touch them. You can also get it by rubbing your eyes after touching anything that has urushiol oil on it, such as your phone, a fence, or even your pet’s fur.
Direct touch isn’t the only way to get poison ivy in your eyes. People sometimes burn poison ivy to stop it from growing. This releases urushiol oil into the air.
You can get the fumes in your eyes if there is smoke from burning poison ivy in your proximity. The oil can also land on clothing and exposed skin.
Symptoms of poison ivy in or on your eyes typically take hours or days to appear. You may experience:
- a rash on your eyelids and skin surrounding your eyes
- inflamed skin
- red, itchy, watery eyes
- swelling that may make it hard to open your eyes
- bumps under your eyelids
In people with lighter skin tones, the rash will be red and bumpy. In people with darker skin tones, the bumpy rash may be brown, black, or purple.
Sometimes, a poison ivy rash may look like streaks instead of bumps. Blisters that ooze may also form within the rash.
As the rash heals, it will flatten, and scabs will form over the blisters. Healing may take 2 to 3 weeks or longer, depending on your sensitivity and the severity of the reaction.
If you think you have come in contact with poison ivy, consider the following steps:
- Wash your hands, face, and eye area thoroughly with warm water and soap or a gentle cleanser.
- Use over-the-counter (OTC) eye drops (aka artificial tears) in your eyes to wash out any oil or fumes.
- Wash everything that may have come in contact with poison ivy to prevent the rash from spreading to other parts of your body.
- Take an oral antihistamine, like loratadine (Claritin) or diphenhydramine (Benadryl). Avoid antihistamine creams, as these can make itching worse.
Most importantly, don’t panic. If your eyes show signs of an allergic reaction, treat them immediately. Be on the lookout for signs of symptom severity, such as extreme swelling, that require a trip or call to the doctor.
When to see a doctor
See your doctor if you have any of these symptoms:
- a severe rash around one or both eyes
- a rash that is oozing pus
- an itch so severe that you can’t sleep
- swollen eyes, especially if swollen shut
- trouble breathing or swallowing
- an infected rash
- rash still present after 2 to 3 weeks
If your symptoms are mild, try using a cool, damp compress for 15 to 30 minutes on the affected area several times a day.
You can chill a bottle of artificial tears in the refrigerator and use them in your eyes to relieve redness.
If you’re experiencing mild to moderate swelling, sleeping with your head elevated may help reduce it.
And try not to scratch. Scratching may lead to an infection and prolong your discomfort.
Antihistamine allergy eye drops may provide relief for itchy eyes. You can try OTC products or ask your doctor for a prescription.
Your doctor may also recommend prescription anti-inflammatory allergy eye drops, such as ketorolac (Acular).
Oral antihistamines may help reduce skin and eye symptoms.
Avoid using topical anti-itch creams near the eye area unless they’re made specifically for that purpose.
The best way to protect your eyes from poison ivy is to avoid touching or rubbing them unless you know your hands are clean. You can easily spread urushiol oil from other areas of your body to your eyes.
You can find poison ivy in forests, rural areas, parks, and cities. Try to avoid exposure by remembering the old adage: “Leaves of three? Let them be.” This can help you avoid poison oak and sumac, too.
Avoid areas where people are burning poison ivy or weeds for disposal. This includes autumn bonfires of leaves, where poison ivy vines may inadvertently lurk.
If you see poison ivy on your property, remove it carefully while wearing long-sleeved clothing and socks. Wear work gloves or disposable gloves that you can discard promptly after use. Make sure to avoid touching your eyes or face while wearing your gloves.
If you’re in an area with poison ivy, remove your clothing, shoes, and accessories immediately once you get home and put them in the wash. Be sure to shower thoroughly and wash your hair.
Outdoor pets can rub against poison ivy, getting the oil on their fur. If you think your animal may have come in contact with poison ivy, bathe them immediately and thoroughly. Wear gloves while bathing your pet.
How long do symptoms of poison ivy in the eye last?
Poison ivy rashes that appear anywhere on your body, including your eyes, usually clear up within 3 weeks. If you have a severe rash or your rash becomes infected, it may take longer for your symptoms to resolve. A doctor should look at any rash that doesn’t clear up within that time frame.
Can poison ivy in my eye cause blindness?
No. Anything that affects your eyes can be scary. But there are no reported cases of blindness caused by poison ivy anywhere in scientific literature.
Is poison ivy contagious?
A poison ivy rash is not contagious. But if urushiol oil is on someone else’s skin and you come in contact with it, you can get poison ivy that way.
Poison ivy can cause an allergic reaction in and around your eyes. The best way to avoid this is to ensure you don’t rub or touch your eyes unless your hands are clean.
You can usually treat poison ivy on the eyes at home. But if you notice swelling or a severe rash, see a doctor or another healthcare professional so they can assess it.