Though people think of poison ivy—that scourge of gardeners and campers—as a summertime menace, you can be exposed to the three-leaved plant at any time of year wherever it grows.
The best way to prevent the irritating red rash that results when the skin comes in contact with the oils of the plant: Know how to identify and avoid it. Teach kids the mnemonic “Leaves of three, let them be,” and follow that advice yourself. If you know you will be in a spot that is likely to have poison ivy—which is more usual in rural areas and thrives in warmer climates—wear long, heavy clothing and closed-toe shoes (yes, even in the summer) to protect your skin from the plant’s oils. Remember that the oils can also linger on clothing—and pets, tools, and other objects—causing indirect contact that may lead to a rash, says Larry Millikan, a dermatologist based in New Orleans. Clothing that may be contaminated should be washed thoroughly, and pets should be shampooed immediately. Use rubbing alcohol to clean other surfaces and objects.
If you do develop a rash, it should subside in two to four weeks. In the meantime, relieve discomfort caused by itching and swelling by rinsing the area with soapy water and using over-the-counter products like calamine lotion and Benadryl or another antihistamine. If blisters develop or the discomfort of the rash is interfering with your day-to-day activities, your dermatologist can give you cortisone cream or injections and prescribe medication.