HCN News & Notes

American Family Care Doctor Urges Quick Action for Severe Poison-ivy Rashes

SPRINGFIELD — Campers, hikers, and other outdoor enthusiasts could be bringing home more than memories now that warmer months and longer days are here. Poison-ivy rashes could be coming home for the ride, and severe cases can put a chill on summer.

A poison-ivy rash is an allergic reaction to the oily resin — called urushiol — found in poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac. Most people are allergic to urushiol. Symptoms typically appear 12 to 72 hours after contact, starting with itchiness, then a red rash followed by blisters. Reactions could come from direct contact with the plants, touching contaminated objects such as shoes and then rubbing your face, or inhaling smoke from burning plants.

Fortunately for sufferers, even severe cases of poison ivy rashes are treatable, often with home remedies, said the physicians and providers at American Family Care (AFC) locations in Springfield and West Springfield.

“We’ve already seen some truly unfortunate cases this season, when the patients waited too long to come in for diagnosis and treatment,” said Dr. Vincent Meoli, regional medical director of AFC, the largest provider of urgent care and accessible primary care in the Commonwealth. “In severe cases, the blisters can grow quite large and painful.” 

Although rashes typically clear up within a few weeks, there are times when prompt medical attention is advised. See your doctor if:

• The rash affects your mouth, eyes, or genitals; covers more than a quarter of your skin; or hasn’t cleared up within a few weeks;

• Your skin continues to swell or your blisters ooze pus;

• Your fever goes above 100 F (37.8 C); or

• You inhaled the smoke of burning plants and are having trouble breathing.

For most cases of poison-ivy rash, a doctor will typically prescribe an oral steroid (like prednisone), along with an over-the-counter topical anti-itch cream and Benadryl. In a severe case, the doctor may give a steroid injection as well as the oral steroid.

Dr. Meoli offered the public these prevention tips:

• Learn to identify and avoid poisonous plants, and safely remove them from your property;

• Urushiol can remain on a surface for years, so immediately clean contaminated objects like clothing, outdoor gear, and shoes; and

• Wash your skin and the fur of any contaminated pet.

“Poison-ivy rashes can put a damper on your summer,” Meoli said. “But with preventative action, or treatment if necessary, you can save yourself some suffering.”