How to Get Doctor's Care for a Poison Ivy Rash


After spending some time outside communing with Mother Nature, you discover that you are feeling quite itchy. You've come into contact with poison ivy and a rash is beginning to develop. It is time to go to the doctor if the at home treatments are giving you no relief after a couple of days. Poison ivy rashes can take up to three weeks to heal. But if your rash is treatable at home, you should start to see a little improvement quickly. If the rash covers large areas of your body, you should visit your doctor.

Things You'll Need

  • Laundry detergent
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Calamine lotion
  • Hydrocortisone
  • Allergy medications
  • Primary care physician or walk-in clinic
  • Pharmacy

Initial At-Home Care

  • Wash all affected skin. Bathe in cool water to keep the pores closed and prevent the urushiol from getting in inside. Some recommend using laundry soap. You can also try cleaning the area with rubbing alcohol. Ideally, bathing should occur less than thirty minutes after exposure.

  • Remove all clothing, including shoes. Wash everything in hot, soapy water. Items that cannot be washed may be cleaned with rubbing alcohol. All tools and utensils must be cleaned. The poison ivy oil, urushiol, can remain on a surface for very long periods of time and re-infect you.

  • Treat the rash with hydrocortisone or calamine lotion. Follow package directions for the allowed frequency of application. Hydrocortisone products typically can only be applied 3 to 4 times a day. Calamine can often be applied as needed.

  • Over-the-counter allergy medications are available that may relieve some of the itching. Medications, such as Benadryl and other antihistamines, may make you drowsy. Therefore, it is good to take them at night. Other products such as Claritin and Zyrtec are less likely to make you drowsy and are good to take during the day. Read the labels carefully to check for warnings for any other medical conditions you may have. Follow package directions carefully.

  • Take hot showers throughout the day to alleviate itching. Follow up with a moisturizer that you let completely dry before you apply the calamine or cortisone.

  • Do your best to avoid scratching. While scratching cannot spread the actual rash, it can cause or spread an infection.

  • Cover the area with a topical antibiotic ointment or cream. Then cover it with a bandage to reduce the likelihood of infection.

When to Seek Medical Attention

  • Seek medical attention if the poison ivy rash develops signs of infection. Signs of an infection include redness around the wound, tenderness to the touch and fever. It is especially imperative if the red area surrounding the rash feels hot to the touch. This could be a sign of cellulitis, which can be life-threatening if left untreated.

  • Immediately seek emergency medical attention if you experience any of the side effects listed for any over-the-counter remedies you are using.

  • If you cannot get into your doctor right away, go to an emergency walk-in clinic or your local hospital ER.

What to Expect at the Doctor's Office

  • When at the doctor’s officer, the nurse will take all of your vitals, including your blood pressure, heart rate and temperature. She will ask what medications you are currently using. List anything you are taking to alleviate your poison ivy discomfort, as well as mediation for any other condition you may have. She will also ask questions about your medical history.

  • Detail what you were exposed to and when, what your symptoms are and how intense they are, as well as how long you’ve been experiencing them. Share what methods you have been trying thus far and any similar previous experiences. It helps to write it down beforehand.

  • The doctor will carefully examine your rash and take note of everything you have shared, before making any decisions.

  • Sometimes the doctor will prescribe a steroid, such as prednisone, to help the poison ivy rash go away. Sometimes he will prescribe an antibiotic, such as Keflex (cephalexin) to help with any infection. Or, these will be prescribed together. Other times only one is used. Whatever prescription is given, follow all directions completely.

  • Your doctor may also give some tips on over-the-counter products that are appropriate for you to use. Follow his directions carefully.

  • Carefully read all prescription information. Seek medical attention immediately if you experience any of the listed side effects.

  • If symptoms are not improving within a few days, go back to the doctor.

Tips & Warnings

  • Familiarize yourself with what poison ivy looks like and try to avoid it in the future!
  • Wear long sleeves and long pants when working outside. Wear shoes that cover your feet. Use gloves.

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  • Photo Credit Credit: Joelloughead Copyright: Wikimedia Commons
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