Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

How Poison Ivy Does and Does Not Spread continued...

People often think it has spread because different areas of skin can break out at different times after a single exposure. But the rash only breaks out where urushiol has had direct contact with the skin -- touching the rash or blisters won’t spread it. Your skin may absorb the oil at different rates, Scheinman tells WebMD. Areas where your skin is the thinnest may break out first: wrists, ankles, neck, and face.

By the time the poison ivy rash appears, the urushiol that triggered it has probably been washed off. But the oil does have staying power on clothes, shoes, and other items, however. Scheinman has seen people who were exposed through touching garden tools or sporting equipment with traces of urushiol on them.

Insect Bites

Insects pose another itchy outdoor hazard. Some bug bites, like those from mosquitoes, biting flies, and ants, can make the surrounding skin turn red, swell, and itch. Unlike poison ivy, the reaction to insect bites is almost instantaneous. The swelling, redness, and itching is caused by histamine, which your immune system releases as part of the allergic response.

Most of the time, bug bites cause a mild reaction that goes away in a day or two. Try calamine lotion, an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream, or antihistamine to relieve itching.

Be sure to read and follow the label directions on any over-the-counter medications. Icing the area can help reduce swelling.

If you feel your throat swelling, find it hard to breathe, or become dizzy or nauseous after an insect bite, seek emergency care.


Make no mistake about it: A sunburn is an injury, says Garner. She tells a story of one young patient whose back was covered in blisters. “It was like someone poured scalding water all over his back,” she says. Although some sunburns are more serious than others, any change in skin color is a sign of damage, Garner says.

Usually, a sunburn will start out red and then may swell and blister. A few days later, the redness may give way to peeling, itching skin. The itch is part of the healing process that happens as your body sloughs off injured skin.

What helps relieve sunburn discomfort? A cool shower or bath and a moisturizer or an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream may help.  If you get blisters, don’t break them.

Of course, it’s better to avoid a sunburn in the first place. Use a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, and limit your time in the sun, especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Also, wear protective clothing, such as long-sleeved shirts, pants, and a wide-brimmed hat to shield you from the sun.

How Can You Stop an Itch?

Quiz yourself about how to treat poison ivy, sunburn, and more.
Get Started

WebMD Video Series

Click here to wach video: Poison Ivy Pitfalls

It's not just summer. Poison ivy and its nasty cousins, poison sumac and poison oak, strike year round.

Click here to watch video: Poison Ivy Pitfalls