General Information: Poison ivy can really ruin your day - or week for that matter. A poison ivy rash is not contagious unless the oils from the ivy have not been washed from the infected person's body and clothing. The rash can only be spread through contact with urushiol oil, which is emitted by the poison ivy plant (as well as by poison oak and sumac). Urushiol oil is a sticky, resin-like substance found on the leaves of poison ivy. Urushiol oil can stay active on any type of surface - including the leaves of dead plants - for a time period of up to five years.
Symptoms: People have various degrees of allergic reactions to poison ivy. Typically, however, you will notice orange, oozing blisters appear on your skin. The resulting rash and blisters will itch and likely be painful. It is best to avoid scratching the rash/blisters created by poison ivy because breaking the skin can lead to a potential infection, inherently worsening the situation.
Photograph: Poison Ivy in Boulder Canyon, Colorado (just beneath Dome Rock).
Treatment: If you think that you have come into contact with poison ivy, you should first and foremost jump into the shower (or creek) and wash off your skin with soap. Josh, one of the website authors, made the perilous mistake of not realizing he had come into contact with poison ivy while hiking around the base of the Second Flatiron in Boulder, CO. After hiking, Josh got into bed with urushiol oil still on his body. Needless to say, the next morning was extremely painful because Josh managed to spread the oil onto his sheets and, then, all over his legs, arms, and neck.
After washing your skin, wash any clothing or linens that may have come into contact with the poison ivy.
Depending upon the level of allergic reaction, there are multiple treatments for poison ivy blisters. If you suffer from a severe allergic reaction, you should seek professional medical assistance as soon as possible. On the other hand, if your allergic reaction to the poison ivy does not rise to the level of needing to seek emergency medical help, there are a number of over-the-counter medicines. These include calamine lotion, various hydrocortisones, and antihistamines (e.g. Benadryl).