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Health Information For Kids
Leaves of three — let them be! You’ve probably heard that little rhyme about poison ivy, the plant that can cause an itchy rash. But do you know why? It’s because of urushiol (say: yoo-ROO-shee-ol), a colorless, odorless oil (or resin) found in the leaves of the plants.
Urushiol is considered an allergen because it causes an allergic reaction — the rash and sometimes swelling. Not everyone will get a reaction, but most people will.
This reaction can appear within hours of touching the plant or as late as 5 days later. Typically, the skin becomes red and swollen and blisters will appear. It’s itchy, too. After a few days, the blisters may become crusty and start to flake off. It may take 2 to 3 weeks to heal.
It’s a good idea to see your doctor if you have any kind of rash, especially if you have a fever too. If your rash was caused by poison ivy or a similar plant, the doctor may recommend cool showers and calamine lotion.
In more severe cases, a liquid or pill medicine called an antihistamine might be needed to decrease itching and redness. A steroid (say: STER-oyd), another kind of medicine, may be prescribed in some cases. This medicine may be applied directly to the rash or taken in a pill or liquid form.
The poison ivy rash itself isn’t contagious. But it’s possible to get a poison ivy rash without ever stepping into the woods or directly touching one of the plants. Here’s how: Urushiol can pass from one person to another. Plus, a person can pick it up from anything that’s come in contact with the oil, including your dog that likes to roam the woods! Urushiol even can travel through the air if someone burns some of the plants to clear brush.
To avoid getting a poison ivy rash:
If you come into contact with urushiol oil, try to wash it off your skin right away. But don’t take a bath! If you do, the oil can get in the bath water and spread to other areas of your body. Take a shower instead, and be sure to use soap. And if your dog has been out exploring the woods, you might want to give your pet a shower too!
Learn about rashes in a flash. Check out our article just for kids!
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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