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A common plant that grows throughout the United States, poison ivy contains an oil called urushiol that can cause an itchy allergic skin rash. Two other plants, poison oak and poison sumac, contain the same oil. Urushiol is found in all parts of the plant, including the leaves, stems, roots, and berries. It's found in dead plants as well as live ones.
You can get the oil on your skin by:
* touching any part of the plant or any clothing or gardening tools that have come in contact with the plant
* touching pets that have come in contact with the plant
* coming in contact with the smoke if someone is burning the plant. This is especially dangerous because breathing the smoke can make your throat swell shut.
An itchy or burning rash will appear in 1 to 3 days on skin that came in contact with the plant's oil. A day or so later, the small red bumps will turn into blisters, which may ooze clear fluid.
Wash your skin thoroughly with soap and cool water as soon as possible to get the oil off your skin. Be sure to scrub under your fingernails. Also remove and wash your clothes, shoes, and any tools that may have touched the plant.
Once you see a rash, you can use the following over-the-counter medications to soothe the itching:
* calamine lotion
* oatmeal baths
* Burow's compresses
* oral antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl).
Other products are also available; ask your pharmacist or health care provider for advice on what to use.
Poison ivy isn't contagious, so contact with another person won't spread the rash. The rash and itching usually go away in about 2 weeks. Don't scratch the rash or you'll make it worse. Continue treating the rash until it clears up. You should call your health care provider if:
* the rash covers a large part of your body or affects your genitals, face, mouth, or throat
* you have a fever over 100[degrees] F (37.8[degrees] C)
* you see pus from the blisters
* your skin continues to swell
* the rash doesn't get better after a few days.
If your face and throat begin to swell, you have trouble breathing, and you feel dizzy or light-headed, call 911 right away.
The best way to avoid getting a rash from poison ivy, oak, or sumac is to stay away from them. Know what poisonous plants are found in your area and learn to recognize them. Be aware that their appearance can change with the seasons. Don't burn the plants because smoke carries the oil.
Wear protective clothing when you're outdoors, including gloves, long-sleeved shirts, and long pants. Wash your hands well when you come in from outside. Bathe pets that may have come in contact with the plants. Wash any clothes, tools, and camping, hunting, and sporting gear that may have the plant oil on them. If you live in an area that has a lot of these plants, you can apply over-the-counter products such as Ivy Block or Stokoguard, which can block the oil from getting to your skin.
Poison ivy is more common east of the Rocky Mountains. Its leaves, which grow in groups of three, can have either smooth or notched edges and look shiny.
Poison oak is more common west of the Rocky Mountains; its leaves are smooth and grow in groups of three, five, or seven.
Poison sumac grows in wet areas of the Southeast. Its leaves are oval and smooth and grow in clusters of seven to thirteen on each stem.
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