Poison Ivy: Itching Scratching and Scarring

Published: 04th May 2011
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Poison Ivy: Itching Scratching and Scarring

The Poison Ivy vine looks like English ivy, with 3 dark shiny bipennate green leaves. The sap is what causes the severe allergic reaction. Most affected patients never come in direct physical contact with the vine or leaf. Usually someone is burning the plant and the sap is spread by microscopic air particles. The sap can travel up to ten miles in the air if burnt. It is attracted to hair. The sap may collect on your dog's fur and be spread to you by your pet. Once the skin is exposed, most of the time, there is no reaction. You usually do not get a reaction from the first encounter with poison ivy. Then there eventually is a severe reaction; it is miserable. It can get into your eyes, ears, mouth, throat, rectum, esophagus, and genital areas.
Major reactions of poison ivy and contact dermatitis may include swelling of the face, hands, feet, and any other affected areas. Severe redness and swelling of the skin with water-filled vesicles are what is seen. Severe chronic itchiness, especially if you scratch and spread the poison ivy with scratch marks are then seen. Severe burning, edema, pain and inflammation of the skin with weeping lesions are symptoms of poison ivy. These lesions eventually dry up and heal.
Poison Ivy has linear stellate, sometimes pus-filled lesions in the outer edge of the eruption. This is the only dermatological problem to have this sign. This means that the small vesicles in the periphery of the entire rash are in a straight line. The lesions are reddened or clear and can look like pimples. Poison Oak has larger blisters. Poison Sumac weeps huge volumes of serous fluid trying to wash the sap away. These symptoms can last days to even weeks. This is usually due to re-contamination. Your skin and sap sloughs off onto sheets, towels, furniture, pens, telephones, chairs, countertops, jewelry, car keys, and glasses. When you touch these contaminated items, you again pick the sap up again and start the process over again and again. Use a sheet wherever you sit and wash it daily.
There are medications to slow the immune system. The medications allow a decrease in swelling and allow the dead superficial skin with the sap to slough off the skin. With medications given for Poison Ivy, you will feel relief within minutes to hours. It is imperative that you continue your medications as directed until all medications are gone. Wash the skin gently with baby shampoo and cool water 1-2 times a day. Blot the affected area dry and do not rub.
It is imperative that sheets, towels and clothing are to be washed daily in hot water with a cap of liquid bleach. Use an extra rinse cycle for a minimum of 5 days. Kitchen and bathroom counters, pens, telephones, jewelry, glasses, etc. should be sprayed with Lysol or a mixture of 1 quart warm water and 2-3 teaspoons of ammonia in a spray bottle each time you use them. Dishes, drinking glasses, and any small items should be washed in the dishwasher. Use paper towels to clean and immediately dry, then throw the used towels away. Do not wipe anything into or near your eyes or face.
If your poison ivy reaction returns to your doctor in 5-10 days - you have probably re-contaminated yourself and may need more medications. You will need to carefully look at your environment and correct where you are not following the above instructions. Remember clean anything that you have touch or think you might have touched, you can never be too cautious. If you have new poison ivy or a re-infection call your doctor to be seen. Sometimes a second round of medication could be necessary.

John Drew Laurusonis M.D.
Doctors Medical Center

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