Myth: The poison ivy rash spreads itself through oozing.
Fact: The rash, or discharge from the rash, does NOT spread itself to other areas of the body. The skin reaction is to a chemical called “urushiol” that is produced by the plant. Urushiol is a colorless, odorless oily substance that can stick to anything (skin, clothes, tools) and be spread around to different areas of your skin. Even the timing of that reaction after exposure can vary widely - sometimes by days or weeks - so it appears as though the rash is “migrating”.
Myth: I am allergic to “poison oak” or “sumac” but not “ivy”.
Fact: Poison ivy, oak and sumac are all part of the Toxicondendron genus of plants that produce the exact same oil, urushiol, that causes the rash. Actually, according to the local plant gurus poison oak and poison sumac are not natively found in the wild in Kansas.
Myth: I’ve never reacted to poison ivy in the past, so it’s safe for me to handle it.
Fact: We don’t fully understand why certain people react to poison ivy and other’s don’t. However, anyone can develop (or lose) the immune response at anytime in their life. I have seen many patients have their first poison ivy rash later in life despite dozens of previous exposures.
Myth: Only steroid shots or pills will get rid of my poison ivy.
Fact: Regardless of treatment, most rashes will last for 2-3 weeks. Steroids may help speed up that process by 1-2 weeks if started early. Systemic steroids (oral or injections) can be useful and needed in severe cases - especially if on the face or other sensitive areas. However, steroid skin creams can get the same amount of medication to the affected areas; and without the steroid circulating through the rest of the body.
Myth: Only the leaves of the poison ivy plant are poisonous.
Fact: Every part of the plant contains the urushiol oil. People tend to get exposed more in the summer because people are outside more and the leaves create more opportunity for contact. However, I have seen many cases of poison ivy rash in the dead of winter - probably from the vines of dormant or dead plants.