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How can contact with poison ivy plants be prevented?

Answer by:
Alan Rockoff, MD

Dermatologist
Author, MedicineNet

Poison ivy and its relatives are often hidden among other vegetation. Even if you know exactly what they look like, it is very hard to avoid coming in contact with them. Although wearing long pants and long sleeves in warm weather may be uncomfortable, it is important to do so when you might be in contact with plants you can't see, whether you are gardening in the backyard or hiking in the woods. So-called barrier creams may help a bit but are not very effective.

When pulling up weeds, those who may be allergic should make sure to tuck sleeves into gloves at all times, since sleeves tend to ride up the forearms and leave wrists and forearms exposed.

If you think you may have been exposed to poison ivy, wash the skin with cool water as soon as possible. After half an hour, however, this is no longer likely to prevent the reaction. Washing pets and clothing may also be of limited help.

Attempts to desensitize people by giving them poison ivy by mouth or by injection were tried in the past but proved to be ineffective and potentially dangerous.