Is It Poison Ivy? Check Your Rash Against These Symptoms

If you come in contact with the irritating oils from poison ivy, your skin will break out in red, itchy pustules. Since there are other plants that can cause similar symptoms, such as ragweed, you can check for a few particular signs to determine whether your outbreak is caused by poison ivy. Urushiol is the name of the oily resin that poison ivy secretes, and rashes can last for weeks, even popping up in other places on your body. So be careful the next time you're walking in the woods or doing yard work – every part of the plant can cause the reaction, including the stems, roots and flowers. Here are a few signs to look for when checking for a poison ivy rash.

1 – Reddened Patches of Skin

A poison ivy rash doesn't have a uniform appearance but looks blotchy and uneven. There will probably be streaks of red skin punctuated by little red bumps of inflammation. The urushiol can cause the affected area to have a pebbly appearance like hives and, for a bad case of poison ivy, the area might swell. If you have all or most of these symptoms and blisters also appear, that's a good indication that you're suffering from a poison ivy rash. Another sign is lines of red skin and/or blisters that form from brushing against the plant.

2 – The Timing is Right

The roughened skin and red, itchy rash from poison ivy, oak or sumac takes anywhere from a half day to almost three days to appear. When you're trying to figure out what caused your skin irritation, it will likely have originated from a brush with foliage that occurred a day or two prior to the outbreak. You might not get a rash the first time you come in contact with poison ivy since the body will first need to be sensitized to the oil it secretes. The second time, though, chances are high that you'll get the rash since 85 percent of all people are susceptible to urushiol irritation.

3 – The Rash Doesn't Spread

Although it takes a while for symptoms to appear, once your rash is present, it will stay in the defined area where you found it. The only additional itchy, inflamed skin you might experience is on other parts of the body that also came in contact with the poison ivy. Be careful about scratching the itch, since you can transfer urushiol from one part of the skin to another. This is a less common way to spread the rash, though, so if you notice new patches it may be from the same exposure to the plant. If you've got a bad case of poison ivy, the urushiol could actually get into your bloodstream and cause a rash in new places. That's a clear sign to go to the doctor for treatment. The rash isn't contagious to others, though, since the amount of urushiol left on the skin after washing isn't enough to transfer the irritation to another person.

4 – Circumstantial Evidence

You'll need to come in contact with the oils from the plant to get a poison ivy rash on your skin. One way to determine if it's from poison ivy is to check whether you've been in a position to come in contact with the plant. Do you have a pet that runs free in the woods? It's definitely possible to get exposure from a dog that's been rolling around in the foliage. Have you been doing lawn work? If you've been pulling invasive vines, that's kind of a giveaway, but even emptying the leaf bag from the mower can expose you to poison ivy. And when the poison ivy leaves are cut into pieces, there's more urushiol on the surface to come in contact with.

5 – Responsive to Treatment

Generally, if you have a poison ivy rash, an over-the-counter ointment will relieve some of the itching and start clearing up the redness within a day or two. If you're feeling really itchy, soaking in an oatmeal bath should relieve the discomfort somewhat. Many lotions also have a soothing effect. If your rash doesn't respond to treatment, see a doctor to make sure of what kind it is. Some people are naturally more sensitive to urushiol than others, and you still might have a poison ivy rash, but your doctor can prescribe some things to clear it up faster.

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