MedSpring Viewpoints

The Ins, Outs & Itches About Poison Ivy and Oak Rash

Leaves of three, let it be.  Say it, memorize it, repeat it – the phrase may save you some itchy, uncomfortable days.  What “leaves of three, let it be” means is to avoid plants with three leaves – they could likely be poisonous, like poison ivy or poison oak.

How can I tell if a plant is poison ivy?

There’s a few key traits to identify poison ivy:

  • It’ll have three leaves (one typically larger than the other two)
poison ivy plant
An example of what a poison ivy plant looks like


  • You’ll see a woody-looking stem with no thorns
  • It can appear pretty much anywhere in the United States

What happens if I come into contact with poison ivy?

You’ll get a rash.  Since about 80% of us are allergic to poison ivy, you’ll likely develop a rash within 12 – 72 hours of exposure to the plant.

poison oak rash
What your poison oak rash may look like


If you have any swelling or a more serious reaction, see a doctor immediately.

What should I do if I think I have a poison oak rash?

  • Wash your skin immediately
  • Wash your clothes right away as well
  • Resist the urge to scratch
  • Try at-home treatments to soothe the itchiness

What are some of the best at-home ways to treat poison ivy?

If you’re not concerned about your symptoms, you can try some at-home remedies to soothe your itchy skin like:

  • Applying calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream
  • Pressing a wet washcloth on the rash area

“I’ve heard oatmeal should be used to remove poison ivy at home – is that true?”

Because oatmeal works like a drying solution (much like calamine lotion), it is sometimes recommended as an at-home way to alleviate the itch of poison ivy.  But before using it, check with your medical professional about their recommended at-home treatment.

How long is poison ivy contagious?

This question gets a lot of debate!  The rash you get after contact with poison ivy is not contagious; what’s contagious is if the oil (called “urushiol”) from the poison oak plant which often times lingers on your skin, clothes, car, or other items.

Is there a difference between poison ivy and poison oak?

Yes.  Poison ivy and poison oak are different plants that can both produce itchiness after contact.  Both plants have three leaves, although poison ivy is easier to spot than poison oak because poison oak often hides with other nearby plants.

How do I get rid of a poison ivy or oak plant near my house?

The safest way to get rid of the plants is to hire a professional to remove them completely.  They’ll have the proper protective gear and know the best protocols for complete removal and preventative measures to ensure it doesn’t grow back.

Have you ever had poison ivy or oak rash?  Where’d you get it? Did you realize the plant was poison ivy after coming into contact with it?  Let us know on Twitter @MedSpring.

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