Medical questions & health advice by board certified doctors
"When should I see a doctor about poison ivy?"
This last summer, I got a nasty case of what I believe was poison ivy. It started out looking like a cluster of bug bites on my ankle and then spread. I had it for a few days when the rash became watery and I decided to go to the doctor. I got a prescription for it and all, but it turns out I really didn't need to go to the doctor, as it cleared up fairly quickly. How is it possible to tell if you need to visit the doctor for a case of poison ivy/oak/etc?
Poison ivy and poison oak are forms of contact dermatitis (skin inflammation) caused by coming into contact with the highly irritating oils produced by the respective plants. With hours to days after coming into contact with the oils, most people will break out in an extremely itchy rash characterized by areas of blistering and redness. Fortunately, although highly uncomfortable, most cases of poison ivy or poison oak are self limiting and do not need to be treated by a doctor. Many simple cases can be treated with cool compresses, anti itch lotions (such as calamine) and oral antihistamines (such as diphenhydramine) to control the itching sensation. It is important not to break open the blistered areas, as this may lead to a higher risk of infection. Cases that should be treated by a doctor include cases in which large areas of the skin are covered with the lesions, when there is extensive blistering, uncontrollable pain or itching, or any time the involved areas are highly sensitive (hands, face, genitals). These cases can be and generally should be managed more quickly to resolution with a several weeks course of oral steroid medications, as prescribed after a physical examination by and discussion with your primary care doctor.
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