How do I treat my poison ivy?

Poison ivy is an extremely common plant in the United States. Coming into contact with poison ivy can cause an itchy, irritating rash with red bumps and blisters that often “weep” and crust over. The best way to avoid getting poison ivy is to know what it looks like and where it grows, and then stay clear of it. Poison ivy has shiny green psnleaves that grow in groups of three. The plant contains a sap that causes the rash and the ensuing irritation. Poison ivy may grow as a vine near trees, rocks or buildings. It may also grow as a ground cover in open fields. If you’ve been exposed to poison ivy, act quickly. Wash the affected area with soap and cold water within 10 to 20 minutes after contact. Be sure to clean under your fingernails thoroughly, and wash any clothes that may have been touched.

  • Poison Ivy
  • Skin Library
  • Skin and Sun Safety

Poison Ivy

Summer weather draws you outside to work in the garden, play in the park and camp in the wilderness, but these activities also draw you closer to poison ivy.

Poison ivy is an extremely common plant in the United States. It may grow as a vine near trees, rocks or buildings, or it may grow as groundcover in open fields. Poison ivy has shiny green leaves that grow in groups of three. The plant contains a sap that, when released, causes the itchy rash we know as poison ivy.

If you have been exposed to poison ivy, wash the affected area with soap and cold water within 10 to 20 minutes after exposure. Be sure to clean under your fingernails and to wash any clothes, shoes or tools that may have had contact with the poison ivy. The key to remembering how to identify and avoid poison ivy: “Leaves of three? Let it be!”

Skin and Sun Safety

Before stepping out to enjoy the sunshine, you should learn how to protect yourself from the dangers of ultraviolet light, premature aging of the skin, and skin cancer.

You do not have to sacrifice outdoor activities – don’t miss out on enjoying life! Just use common sense and take these simple precautions. Remember your ACBs — Avoid, Cover-up, and Block.

  • Avoid peak sunlight hours – 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. – when the sun’s rays are strongest. If you can’t avoid this whole time, still avoid as much as you can, e.g., 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. or 12 noon to 1 p.m.
  • Wear protective clothing, including a wide-brimmed hat, long-sleeved shirt, long pants and sunglasses. This is an easy way to avoid ultraviolet light without having the fuss and mess of sunscreen, and is especially useful if you expect to be in the sun for prolonged periods.
  • Use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15. Using sunscreens with and SPF of 30 or greater has the added benefit of protecting against UVA rays as well. Apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes before going into the sun. This will make it last longer and be less likely to smear off or run into the eyes. Reapply according to the instructions on the bottle, but especially after swimming or perspiring.

It goes without saying that purposeful tanning should be avoided. A tan is the body’s response to injury by ultraviolet light.

In addition to these sun-avoidance measures, you should check your skin regularly – for example, once a month – for changes or new growths. These may be early warning signs of skin cancer, which can be cured if detected early. If you are concerned about any changes to your skin, contact your healthcare provider.

Rashes and Hives

Hives are sometimes an allergic reaction to food, medication or anything else that enters our mouth (e.g., candy, mouthwash) or our system (such as a bee sting). Hives are itchy small, red bumps or welts that disappear after minutes to hours, sometimes moving to another area of the body. An individual spot doesn’t last more than 24 hours. If you develop hives, try to figure out the cause (this is often difficult). If the culprit is a food, stop eating the food that may be causing the hives. If you suspect a medicine is causing the rash, talk to your doctor about it before stopping the medicine.

Hives can very occasionally be accompanied by swelling around the throat and may cause difficulty breathing. If this is the case, go to an emergency room immediately. If you get hives frequently, ask your doctor to recommend an antihistamine to relieve the itchiness. For temporary relief from itching, apply witch hazel or rubbing alcohol, bathe in lukewarm water and baking soda, or apply calamine lotion.

Heat Rash
While it sounds hard to believe, you may get heat rash not only during the summer but also in winter. Heat rash may be caused by prolonged periods of hot weather or by overdressing during the cold months. Heat rash leaves skin rough, red and covered by pinhead-sized pimples. To relieve irritation, dress in lightweight, loose-fitting cotton clothes; the rash will clear up on its own.

A widespread rash with pimples that lasts longer than a day can signal other problems. See your doctor for treatment.


Burns fall into one of three categories.

A first-degree burn leaves skin red and slightly swollen. Second- and third-degree burns leave the skin blistered and charred. These burns require immediate medical attention. A first-degree burn that covers a large part of the body also should be examined by a doctor.

Small first-degree burns can be treated easily at home. Immerse the burn in cold water until you do not feel pain. Cover the burn with petrolatum, antibiotic ointment or a thin layer of baking soda and water. Then, loosely bandage the area, allowing exposure to air.


You probably have had a blister at some point. Whether caused by irritation, friction or burns, blisters can be painful nuisances.

Leaving a blister intact for as long as possible hurries the healing process. That is because the skin protects the area from infection. If you keep the blister and surrounding area clean and covered, the blister should shrink within a couple of days. The blister may drain on its own. This is fine; the remaining blister roof should still be protected and not removed.

Be gentle to the area while it heals. And take steps to keep another blister from forming by wearing shoes that fit properly or wearing an extra pair of socks. Protect your hands with gloves if you are gardening or playing sports.

Few blisters require a doctor’s attention. But if a blister seems extremely swollen, red or painful, contact your healthcare provider.

Adult Acne

Skin blemishes are supposed to fade with age. Pimples and blackheads are the troubles of teen-agers. Right?

Not always. More and more adults are plagued by acne. There are several causes of pimples and blackheads. For a woman in her twenties and thirties, it may be due to natural changes in hormone balances. For those with a ruddy complexion and fair skin, it may be a skin condition called rosacea. Blackheads or whitish pinpoint cysts, especially around the central face or eyes, may be the result of years of sun exposure. Adult acne is rarely due to oily skin. Nevertheless, you should use a mild soap to wash affected areas gently. Do not scrub. Over-the-counter acne treatments made for adults may work well.

Occasionally, if your blemishes are in one location, your habits may be the cause. Think about what touches your face. For example, if you break out on your chin, perhaps this area is being rubbed when you use the phone. Wipe your receiver with alcohol every morning and hold the phone away from your face instead of cradling it between your chin and shoulder.

If your skin problems do not clear up with these hints, talk to your family doctor.


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