The Poison ivy plant is common in most parts of Asia and North America but since it’s also found in all US states, the chances are that you will definitely cross paths with it at least once in your lifetime.
Poison ivy rash can be irritating and painful and pretty scary. Today, we have decided to find out how long until Poison ivy rash appears, what are the symptoms and when should you seek medical assistance.
Before we get into the Poison ivy symptoms and the specifics of the rashes they cause, you will need to know what a Poison ivy is and how to look out for the plant when you are out in the wilderness on a hiking or backpacking trip.
This way, you will know what to avoid and prevent some serious problems.
Without medical care, the Poison ivy rash will not kill you, but it can become extremely painful and irritating.
Ingesting the leaves from the plant might cause death in the way of suffocation and irritation to the throat and the lungs, but the berries will not be that toxic if only a few are ingested. They do, however, become harmful in larger quantities.
Before embarking on your journey, make sure you know how to choose the best camping clothes to add an extra layer of protection from poisonous plants and pests.
What is Poison ivy?
While the Poison ivy is most commonly mistaken to be an Ivy, it actually falls into the cashew and almond family, making it even harder to identify the plant if you are not entirely sure about it.
The plant also looks different in certain parts of the world and will vary in color and shape.
Poison ivy can usually be easily identified in the fall as its leaves are known to turn a bright red compared to the more brownish color of other trees in the fall and the leaves will turn green or yellowish again in the spring and summer months.
The color of the Poison ivy also directly indicates the maturity of the plant, with darker green poison ivy being more mature.
No matter the age of the plant or the leaves, all the leaves feature ragged edges which might look like teeth to some people and the surface itself is quite smooth on the plant. The plant spreads quite rapidly throughout its environment.
Which part of the Poison ivy is actually poisonous?
The Poison ivy plant itself is not poisonous at all, but inside the leaves and the plant, you will find a substance called Urushiol, which is what causes and spreads the symptoms and rash.
This poisonous substance will burrow deep into the skin and when it reaches the innermost part of the skin, it actually starts causing blisters and this is what we know as Poison ivy rash.
The leaves on the Poison ivy are not poisonous at all; you will only notice an infection once you damage the leaves.
Since the leaves are also extremely fragile, it should come as no surprise that that slightest of bump or brush against the leaves could possibly dislodge this resin which could possibly infect and penetrate your skin.
How does the rash spread on the body?
Poison ivy rash does not actually spread on its own, but the blisters which are formed from the rash still contain some of the resin found in the plant.
When these blisters ooze out their sap, the resin will keep on spreading on the skin and when you accidentally touch another part of your body with this resin on your hands, you are unknowingly infecting more parts of your body with the infection.
The blisters might also burst open on their own and this will also cause the resin to spread to more area and the rash will become bigger and bigger until you eventually treat the rash.
Symptoms of poison ivy
The symptoms by the plant vary from person to person. Many people will only show symptoms the following day, which fuels the myth that you can contract Poison ivy rash from simply being close to the plant or even from someone else.
The main symptom is a red rash appearing on the skin, where the poison ivy sap touched you. Usually, this redness will be associated with pain. Depending on how much poison ivy sap you had on your skin, the pain will be mild or intense.
For some, there will be no pain but sever itching instead. After a while, the infected area will start swelling up and this will be the tell-tale sign that you have Poison ivy.
After the swelling has begun, you might start noticing the blisters appear and it is fundamental not to open up these blisters to let the ooze out on the inside as that could cause the infection to spread.
Most of the common rash symptoms can be seen as early as 5 to 10 minutes after the infection, but sometimes the symptoms will only appear in 48 hours after being infected with the resin.
The more resin you were infected with, the faster the symptoms will actually start to appear and this could bring a lot of excruciating pain with it.
Depending on where you have been, you might have been infected with Poison ivy, but the symptoms from poison ivy are not necessarily unique and you might have contracted any other illness or disease.
Before simply attributing the symptom to Poison ivy, you will need to identify where you have been in the previous few minutes all the way up to 48 hours to ensure that you have indeed been in contact with the plant. Visiting a medical professional is also good option to consider.
It is also recommended that you do not touch the infected are of skin and then touch another uninfected area of skin, which could lead to the infection spreading.
If you might have been in an area where Poison ivy could possibly have burned, you might also have ingested some of the smoke from the plant.
Since the smoke will not necessarily be harmful to you, the smaller plant particles in the air are still full of the resin and when this is ingested, it might lead to internal damage. Should you suspect this and you have difficulty breathing, you should get medical treatment immediately.
Can Poison ivy be washed off?
Yes, if you manage to identify Poison Ivy correctly and you wash your skin quickly, you can indeed wash it off. The resin usually takes between 5 and 10 minutes to penetrate the skin, but the infected area can be washed off with cold water.
Do not use warm water as warm water will cause the skin to soften and this could possibly lead to the infection spreading a little faster than it would have spread without the addition of water.
Cold water can possibly rinse off the infection, but you will need to ensure that it is washed off thoroughly and it is better to spend extra time washing to avoid any rash.
Should the resin be on your clothing or work tools, it is also recommended that you wash these tools and clothing to ensure that they can be handled again as the resin can remain active on clothing and tools for up to 1 year.
When to see a doctor
While Poison ivy rash is not generally life threatening and the symptoms will eventually disappear, there are a few reasons and cases when you should visit the doctor just to ensure that you are fine and not in any serious danger.
You’ve inhaled the smoke of burning Poison ivy
One of these symptoms which should push you to visit the doctor is when you suspect you might have inhaled or ingested some of the burning Poison ivy plants.
The resin could cause internal damage and swelling and you will need to see a medical professional as this could potentially lead to suffocation. Should you be short of breath or struggling to get air in your lungs, you should see the doctor.
The swelling doesn’t stop
Another possible reason to see a medical professional is when the swelling continues for too long. As the swelling continues, the pain will also set in a little more and this could be excruciating at times.
The doctor might give you some form of antibiotics and an ointment to help ease the pain and to stop the swelling.
The rash has infected your eyes, mouth or nose
The eyes, mouth, and nose are extremely vital to the body and they need to be taken care of, but sometimes, you might not know that you still have some of the resin on your hand and then when you wipe through your face with your hands, the resin could infect these vital areas.
Should you feel any pain associated with the current rash you have from the infection or if you notice any swelling that starts in these areas, you need to seek medical care or treatment immediately.
If the infection affects the nose, it could seriously impair breathing and spread upward in the nasal cavities and then to the throat area.
If the mouth is infected, the swelling could cause excruciating pain and you might not be able to drink water or even talk and this could be fatal if not treated, but the eyes are probably the worst place to have the resin infect and this could even damage the eye itself, which could lead to impaired vision and even blindness if left untreated as the resin burrow deep into the skin and affect the retinal areas of the eye.
Blisters oozing pus
The pus that these blisters might sometimes ooze out can actually allow the infection to spread to various other areas and it is fundamental that you visit a doctor to have them stop the oozing from the blisters.
We did already mention that the resin can still be active for about 1 year and if the resin is not killed off by the body, it could possibly start a new infection and this could be extremely harmful.
You can read my dedicated article on how to make a blister heal faster.
Fever higher than 100 degrees Fahrenheit
If you are sure that you have been infected by Poison ivy and you start contracting a fever, it is important to keep this in check and regulated.
If the fever keeps on rising, it is recommended that you visit a doctor or even the emergency room for a thorough check up and to allow them to possibly break that high fever. Fever can be fatal if ignored.
Enjoy the outdoors, but watch out for Poison Ivy!
Poison ivy can be found almost anywhere in Asia and especially North America and since many of us do love the outdoors, it should not be a reason to stay indoors. Backpacking and hiking trips can be a great breakaway and the additional camping trip for the family will ensure everybody gets to enjoy nature’s relaxation.
You should study up on the Poison ivy to ensure that you know how to avoid them and how to read the symptoms associated with them. This could possibly save your life in the wild outdoors. See more tips on how to stay safe while camping to make your stay more fun and memorable.
We would like to thank you for reading this article and we hope that you now have a clear understanding of the Poison ivy plant and even how to read some of the symptoms. Poison ivy is not always fatal, but it could possibly be if you are not careful or lack paying attention to it.
Daniel is a gear freak when it comes to hiking, climbing and camping. He went to REI Outdoor School to meet new people and learn best practices. Don’t even try to argue with him about the latest backpack or ice axe, he tried most of them. Daniel’s dream is to climb Mount Everest.