How Does Poison Ivy Spread?


If you want a simple answer to the above question, the truth is poison ivy doesn’t actually spread. If you want a more complex explanation, let’s get into the detail. If you’ve been in a bushy area and you develop itching, a red rash and blisters in a few hours or even several days, you’ve probably come into contact with poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac. The reactions are due to the urushiol oil in these plants.

What Does Poison Ivy Look Like?

how does poison ivy spread


Poison ivy is found in many places throughout the United States with the exception of Alaska, Hawaii some parts of the West Coast. It can be a vine or small shrub and each leaf has three glossy leaflets, with smooth or toothed edges. The color of the leaves changes according to the season. They are reddish in spring, green in summer, and yellow, orange, or red in fall. Poison ivy may have greenish-white flowers and whitish-yellow berries.

Does Poison Ivy Spread?

how does poison ivy spread

The rash caused by poison ivy or another poison plan can’t be spread from one person to another. It can, however, be picked up from the plant oils that get stuck to clothing, pets, tools or other items. The oil can stay on an object for years unless it is washed off with water or rubbing alcohol.

The rash only occurs on the area of the skin which came into contact with the urushoil. Scratching the area does not cause it to spread, contrary to popular belief. Instead, the rash can appear to be spreading since the effect appears over time. This is because different parts of the body absorb the oil at different rates or because of further exposure to contaminated items or oil trapped beneath the nails.

The fluid in the blisters cannot further spread the rash even if the blisters break. Only the oil can cause a rash.

Preventing Poison Ivy Rash

The best way to prevent the rash is to avoid poison ivy. You, therefore, need to know what the poison plants look like. You should also wash your garden tools, clothing and gloves regularly to get rid of any plant oils. Pets should also be given a bath if they may have brushed against a poisonous plant. Remember to wash your skin with soap and water as soon as possible after coming into contact with poison ivy. The sooner you can get rid of the oil, the more likely you can avoid or reduce the spread of the rash.

Treating Poison Ivy Rash

how does poison ivy spread


It is important not to scratch the blisters. While this will not cause the rash to spread, it can introduce bacteria from under your fingernails and this can cause an infection. The rash, blisters and accompanying itch usually go away within several weeks even without treatment.

You may want to relieve the discomfort though. Soaking in a cool bath applying wet compresses to the skin can help. Over-the-counter corticosteroid ointments and creams or oral corticosteroids prescribed by a doctor can also help.

Skin protectants like zinc acetate, zinc carbonate, zinc oxide, and calamine lotion can help to stop the blisters from oozing. Meanwhile, baking soda or colloidal oatmeal can reduce itching and irritation. Aluminum acetate is also an option since it is an astringent that relieves rash.

While you can treat the effects of poison ivy exposure at home, some symptoms indicate you need to go to a doctor. You should seek medical attention if you have a high fever, the itching is so bad it keeps you awake,  the rash is severe and shows no sign of improvement, you have difficulty breathing or there is pus on the rash.