Poison ivy: Who gets and causes

Poison ivy: Who gets and causes

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Who gets this rash?

Most people (85 percent) develop a rash when they get urushiol on their skin. The first time you get this oil on your skin, you may not get a rash. The next time this oil gets on your skin you can become sensitive to it. Once you are sensitive to it, a rash appears. About 15 percent of people do not become sensitive to this oil and never develop a rash.

Adults who had rashes as a child often find that they are less sensitive as adults. They may completely lose their sensitivity and never get another rash when the oil touches their skin. Adults who never had a rash as a child may become sensitive to the oil.

What causes this rash?

There are 3 ways to get this rash:
  1. Direct contact
    By touching poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac, you can get a rash. Every part of these plants — the leaves, stems, roots, and flowers — contains the oil.
  2. Indirect contact
    Urushiol can stick to almost anything. If you touch a pet's fur, gardening tool, or sports equipment that has the oil on it, you can get a rash. Dogs and other animals do not get this rash. Only people get this rash.
  3. Airborne contact
    Burning these poisonous plants releases particles of urushiol into the air. These airborne particles can land on the skin.

It is not possible to get this rash from touching someone who has the rash. The skin absorbs the oil too quickly. You cannot get a rash from getting the fluid in the blisters on your skin.

Learn more about poison ivy, oak, and sumac:

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