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It is true a diagnosis of poison ivy is much more common in the summer, primarily because people spend more time outdoors when the weather is warm than they do in the winter when it is cold and blustery. But, our weather this winter has been unseasonably warm and more people are spending time outside, increasing their risk of coming in contact with poison ivy.
Contrary to popular belief, you can still get poison ivy even if the plant doesn’t have its leaves of three. In fact, the oils that cause your body’s histamine response of an itchy tree-like rash can be even more virulent from contact with the oil on the plant’s hairy vine than from the oils present on the plant’s leaves.
If you get a rash in the winter and you’ve been outside, consider contact with poison ivy oil as the cause. This contact can be direct – you rub up against the vine – or indirect – you come in contact with something that has residual oil from the plant like a gardening tool. (This residual oil can actually stay on a hard surface for up to five years.)
You need to seek emergency care if your body’s histamine response is causing a severe reaction like trouble breathing.
However, most people can treat poison ivy effectively at home using over-the-counter medications like oral anti-histamines and hydrocortisone cream to help control the itching.
It is a good idea to see a doctor if the poison ivy covers a large part of your body, is causing severe pain, is very uncomfortable or lingers and won’t go away. Additionally, it is important to try not to scratch because you could introduce bacteria into an open sore that could cause an infection, requiring a trip to the doctor.
Have fun outside during our warm winter weather, but be mindful that poison ivy is still a threat even when the plant is leaf-less.
About Tiffany Lowe-Payne, DO
Dr. Tiffany Lowe-Payne is a family medicine physician with WakeMed Urgent Care.
3000 New Bern Ave.
Raleigh, NC 27610