COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Oils in poison ivy and poison sumac plants can cause allergic reactions so severe they require medical treatment. Within 10 minutes, the urushiol oil from the plants can begin to affect exposed skin.

Kellie Goare, a nurse practitioner at CVS Minute Clinic in Worthington, Ohio, treats poison ivy cases for people who’ve been in contact with the plants while hiking or gardening.

Rashes can appear between four hours and four days later, Goare said.

“Generally it is rash, redness and itching,” Goare said about symptoms. “Sometimes they can have weeping or draining of the area.”

Protecting yourself from poison ivy

Wear lightweight long sleeves and long pants in the garden or in the woods, and remember “leaves of three let it be” when you see a plant, just in case it’s poison ivy.

Rinse your skin with water, and wash clothes in the laundry with soap. Wipe off shoes and rinse them if they’ve come into contact with the plant, Goare advised.

Poison ivy rash treatments

If you do come in contact with poison ivy and experience a rash, there are a range of over-the-counter products that can help:

  • Washes remove the urushiol oil that causes the allergic skin reaction
  • Hydrocortisone cream aids healing and relieves itching
  • Calamine lotion dries sores and relieves itching
  • An over-the-counter allergy pill will also help stop the itching

Should you bandage it?

“If it’s weeping, then it’s best to cover until the weeping stops. But if you can leave it open to air as much as possible, that’s going to be helpful,” Goare said.

“I would say that if the rash is bothering you, if it is spreading, or if it’s worsening in any way, it’s definitely time to seek medical attention,” Goare continued. “Also, if it is on your face or sensitive areas, it’s best to seek medical attention as well.”

If you are having difficulty breathing, call 911.

Rashes can take one to two weeks to heal. If they stick around for longer than two weeks without improvement, seek medical treatment. There are stronger topical creams available with a prescription as well as oral steroids, but you’ll need an appointment with the nurse practitioner or your doctor to get them.

How to eliminate poison ivy from your garden

The Delaware County Master Gardeners has some tips on how to eliminate the plants.

“Glyphosate herbicides (ex. Roundup Original Concentrate) have far less soil activity (a few days) than a triclopyr (ex. Ortho Max Poison Ivy & Bought Brush Killer Concentrate) or 3-way herbicide (Ferti-lome Weed-Out Lawn Weed Killer Concentrate), which is a few weeks.

Poison Ivy. (Photo credit: Rick Gardner)

“Therefore, a glyphosate is recommended in planned or existing beds of ornamental flowers or woody shrubs. If the bed hasn’t been planted, then wait four or five days after application before planting,” it said in an email.

Glyphosate works best when applied two weeks before and two weeks after full bloom, which usually occurs in early summer.

“If you need to kill poison ivy in lawns or along fence rows, then a 3-way or triclopyr herbicide is preferred. These work best in late spring or early summer when plants are actively growing,” it said. “Do not use clippings from this area for mulch in vegetable gardens or ornamental beds due to the herbicides’ longevity. Herbicides can be sprayed on plants, but be careful to prevent drift onto the foliage, stems, or trunks of desired plants.”

Cutting back poison ivy

You can also cut back the poison ivy and spray or paint the herbicide on the freshly cut stems or stumps in order to protect neighboring plants.

“Whichever herbicide you use, look for new poison ivy growth each week for several weeks after application. If new growth is seen, reapply the herbicide,” the Master Gardener’s email said.

Digging it up

If dealing with a small infestation, dig up the plant (try to get the entire rhizome) and dispose of it in a plastic bag at the landfill. You can also cut it back to ground level to starve it.

Just like when you are hiking in an area where poison ivy may be, experts recommend dressing appropriately while digging up the plant to protect yourself from getting a rash.

“Wear full-length pants and long-sleeved shirts and protect your arms and hands with disposable gloves or long plastic bags like those used for newspapers or loaves of bread; secure the tops with rubber bands,” it said. “Be sure to throw away the gloves or bags. If any clothing comes in contact with the poison ivy, launder it separately from family laundry.”

Poison sumac. (Photo credit: Rick Gardner)

After cutting, inspect the site weekly and cut again to ground level when new growth appears.  

“Do not dispose of poison ivy clippings in a compost pile or by burning, which will release the urushiol oil that causes the allergic skin reaction. Instead, bag the clippings and dispose of them in the landfill,” the Master Gardener’s email said.