Health Watch -- Poison Ivy

Health Watch is a Public Service of the Office of News and Publications and is intended to provide general information only and should not replace the advice of a medical professional. You should contact your physician if you have questions about any of these topics.

One summer hazard doesn't go away when the days turn cooler.

Watch where you step or put your hands. Poison ivy is usually associated with the damper it can put on summer fun, but dermatologists at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas say it can continue to cause problems until the first freeze. If you're out and about this fall, beware of the three-leafed plant because it grows just about everywhere.

If you do have an unfortunate close encounter with poison ivy, Dr. Amit Pandya, a UT Southwestern dermatologist, has a few tips for minimizing the discomfort. The first thing you should do when exposed to poison ivy is wash the affected skin and clothing with soap and water. That will help keep the rash from spreading further on your own skin or from spreading to others.

You can use cold compresses to ease the swelling, itching and pain of poison ivy. Over-the-counter creams and antihistamines may also help you feel better. In severe cases, such as when the rash covers large portions of your body or is in a particularly sensitive spot, you may need to see a doctor for steroids or other medications to reduce the inflammation.

Try to avoid multiple exposures to poison ivy. Repeated exposures may make the rash appear faster and increase its severity. Wearing long pants, boots and long sleeves when you're out in areas where poison ivy grows may help protect you.

Finally, never burn poison ivy. Inhaling the smoke irritates your lungs, which can lead to severe respiratory attacks.