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House Calls: Treating poison ivy

Q: If my child gets poison ivy, what should I do?

A: Consult your child’s pediatrician if your child has any type of rash and particularly if he or she has a fever. Poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac all contain a colorless, odorless rash-causing substance called urushiol, which affects about 60 percent to 80 percent of people. Between a few hours and five days after contact, the skin becomes red, itchy and swollen and has blisters, which may become crusty after a few days. A poison-ivy rash usually heals in one to two weeks. Your pediatrician may recommend a cool shower or a calming lotion. In more serious cases, doctors may prescribe pills or creams to ease itching and redness.

In addition to direct contact with the plant, your child can get a rash from pets and other people who have urushiol on them. To help your child avoid urushiol, teach him or her to:

  • Identify poison ivy, oak and sumac so they can be avoided. When in doubt, stay away from shiny leaves.
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants when playing in poison-ivy areas.
  • Make sure pets who have been in the woods are bathed.