10 Common Myths About Poison Ivy

A poison ivy rash occurs when the plant toxin, urushiol, comes into contact with human skin. This toxin causes swelling, blisters, pain and excessive itching.  Due to the severity of this plant, many people form untrue beliefs about poison ivy.

Here are 10 common myths about poison ivy that you need to stop believing.

Myth #1 – “A poison ivy rash is contagious.”

Fact: People develop a rash when coming into contact with poison ivy because it is a reaction to urushiol found in poison ivy, oak and sumac. The rash itself cannot pass from person to person; however, the urushiol can be spread by contact.

Myth #2 – “Scratching poison ivy blisters will spread the rash.”

Fact: As mentioned in the first myth, the rash you obtain is caused and spread by the urushiol found in poison ivy, oak and sumac. If you have the oil on your hands and scratch your nose, shoulders or forehead, then there is a good chance the rash will spread. The fluid in the blisters does not cause the rash to spread. However, you should worry about possible infection and scarring from breaking your poison ivy blisters. If possible, try to avoid excessive scratching and be sure to keep your hands and fingernails clean. Contact your Doctor if you notice that there is excessive fluid buildup in your blisters.

Myth #3 – “Leaves of three, let it be.”

Fact: Many people believe this phrase can correctly identify poison ivy. This is partially true when it comes to ivy; however, this is not the case for poison oak and poison sumac. Poison ivy has 3 leaves per cluster. Meanwhile, poison oak usually has between 3 to 5 leaves, and poison sumac has between 7 to 13 leaves on a branch.

Myth #4 – “Only the leaves are poisonous.”

Fact: Reports show that people contract rashes during summer when poison ivy leaves are present and bountiful. However, there have also been cases when people contract poison ivy rashes in autumn or winter. This occurs because every part of the plant contains urushiol oil including the leaves, roots, flowers, stems, vines and berries.

Myth #5 – “Dead plants are no longer toxic.”

Fact: Not true! Even if the plant is dead, you should still avoid it. Urushiol oil can stay active on surfaces, including dead plants, for up to five years or longer.

Myth #6 – “I’ve never gotten a rash. I must be immune to poison ivy.”

Fact: Some people do not develop an allergic reaction when they are exposed to poison ivy. This does not necessarily mean they have an immunity because there have been cases where people don’t experience their first reaction until they have been exposed multiple times. Also keep in mind that a person’s sensitivity to urushiol can change over time or even from season to season. People who were not sensitive as children can develop a hypersensitivity to poison ivy as an adult and vice versa.

Myth #7 – “Chewing poison ivy leaves will boost your immunity”

Fact: DO NOT CHEW ON POISON IVY LEAVES! This is completely untrue and dangerous. Doing so may cause a rash in your throat or spread to your lungs, which can result in trouble breathing. If this is the case, call your doctor immediately or go to the hospital.

Myth #8 – “I’m only allergic to poison oak and not poison ivy or sumac.”

Fact: Some people believe they are only sensitive to one plant. But poison ivy, oak and sumac are all members of the Toxicondendron genus of plants. All three of these plants produce the exact same urushiol that causes rashes.

Myth #9 – “You have to touch the plant to get a rash.”

Fact: A common way to obtain rash from poison ivy is by touching the urushiol oil found on the plant. However, you do not have to directly touch the plant to come in contact with the urushiol. If you come in contact with items such as gardening tools or even clothes, you may contract the rash. If you believe any of your belongings came into contact with urushiol, be sure to wash them with soap and water.

Myth #10 – “You can get a rash by simply being near the plant.”

Fact: As stated in the previous myth, you develop a rash when you come in direct contact with urushiol. So simply being near the plant will not cause an allergic reaction. Keep in mind, however, that the oil can become airborne from forest fires, lawnmowers or weed whackers.

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