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Poison Ivy and Children

Poison Ivy and Children

What is poison ivy?

There are three native American plants that collectively may be called poison ivy:

  • Poison ivy

  • Poison oak

  • Poison sumac

To be allergic to poison ivy, your child must first be sensitized to the plant's oils. This means that the next time there is contact with the plant, a rash may occur.

What causes an allergic reaction?

The resin in the plants contains an oily substance called urushiol. Urushiol is easily transferred from the plants to other objects, including toys, garments, and animals. This chemical can remain active for a year or longer. It is important to know that the oils can also be transferred from clothing or pets, and can be present in the smoke from a burning plant.

What are the symptoms of an allergic reaction to poison ivy?

The reaction is usually contact dermatitis, which may occur several hours, days, or even weeks after exposure. The dermatitis is characterized by a rash followed by bumps and blisters that itch. Sometimes, swelling occurs in the area of contact. Eventually, the blisters break, ooze, and then crust over.

Treatment for poison ivy

Making sure your child avoids the poisonous plants is the best treatment. It is important to teach your children what the plants look like and not to touch them.

If contact with the plants has already occurred, you should remove the oils from the skin as soon as possible by cleansing with an ordinary soap. Repeat the cleaning with the soap three times. There are also alcohol-based wipes that help remove the oils. Wash all clothes and shoes also, because the oils can remain on these. You may use calamine lotion or oatmeal baths to help soothe itching. Over-the-counter 1% hydrocortisone cream or antihistamines may also help if itching is more severe.  

If your child inhaled smoking from a burning poisonous plant, has a fever, or the blisters and rash are on the face, near the genitals, or all over the body, your child's doctor should be notified. After a medical history and physical examination, your child's doctor may prescribe a steroid cream, oral steroids, or steroid injections to help with the swelling and itching.

Is poison ivy contagious?

Poison ivy cannot be spread from person to person by touching the blisters, or from the fluid inside the blisters. It can be spread, however, if the oils remain on the skin, clothes, or shoes. This is why washing your child's hands, clothes, and shoes as soon as possible is very important.

Preventing poison ivy:

  • Teach all family members to recognize the plants.

  • Make sure your child wears long pants and long sleeves when poison ivy or poison oak are in the vicinity.

  • Wash all clothes and shoes immediately after your child has been outside.

  • Make sure your child does not touch a pet that might have been in contact with a poisonous plant.

  • Wash your child's hands thoroughly.

 
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