Updated on  December 28, 2022
5 min read

Poison Ivy in Your Eye

8 sources cited
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How to Tell if You Have Poison Ivy in Your Eye

Poison ivy is a plant known to cause allergic reactions after contact with its leaves, stems, or roots. The plant's sap contains a sticky oil known as urushiol. You may come into contact with urushiol by:

  • Directly touching the plant
  • Indirect contact by touching objects contaminated with urushiol (e.g., gardening tools, phones, clothing, or animal fur)
  • Inhaling smoke from burning poison ivy (can cause severe respiratory problems)1

When urushiol comes into contact with the skin, it causes an itchy, red, and blistering rash. This condition is known as urushiol-induced contact dermatitis, Toxicodendron dermatitis, or Rhus dermatitis. The rash usually begins 1 to 3 days after exposure. 

Current research shows about 75 percent of American adults are allergic to poison ivy, with more than 25 million people seeking treatment each year for contact dermatitis.2,3

Poison ivy rash is not contagious, but you can get it from contact with someone with urushiol on their skin. 

How to Tell if You Have Poison Ivy in Your Eye

Besides the skin, poison ivy can affect the eyes, causing a painful rash in or around them.

Symptoms

Common symptoms of poison ivy in the eye include: 

What to Do if You Get Poison Ivy in Your Eye

If poison ivy gets into your eyes, chances are that other parts of your body, such as your hands, are also contaminated. Follow the steps below to prevent further issues:

  1. Wash your hands thoroughly and avoid touching your eyes. 
  2. Take a shower with warm soapy water to remove poison ivy oil from your skin. You can also use rubbing alcohol to get rid of the poison.4
  3. To prevent re-exposure, experts recommend cleaning your clothes and other personal items, such as eyeglasses and phones, if you suspect urushiol contamination. 
  4. After cleaning all possibly contaminated surfaces, begin treating your eye. There are several home remedies for mild reactions, but severe cases require immediate medical attention.

Treating Poison Ivy in the Eye

Do the following if poison ivy affects your eye:

  • Cool compress. Apply a chilled wet towel on the affected eye for about 30 minutes several times daily to soothe inflammation or itchiness.
  • Apply calamine lotion to relieve itching, pain, and minor eyelid skin irritations. It also prevents watery eyes and dries out oozing sores.
  • Apply 1% hydrocortisone cream for the first few days. This will alleviate the itch and reduce eyelid swelling.5
  • Apply colloidal oatmeal cream if your eyelids are inflamed. Research suggests that oatmeal has antioxidants and anti-inflammatory benefits and can red.6
  • Take antihistamine pills. Loratadine (Claritin) and diphenhydramine (Benadryl) could help if your rash keeps you up at night.
  • Elevate your head with a pillow. This will prevent swelling when you sleep.
  • Avoid touching or scratching your eyes. It can cause further irritation and complications.

Consult your eye doctor before applying lotion and creams. Your doctor will guide you on the appropriate creams and oral or topical antihistamines, depending on the extent of your reaction.

When to Seek Medical Care

Most cases of poison ivy rash resolve without professional intervention. With proper care, the blisters dry up, and the rash fades. However, if your rash doesn't show improvement after a week, you may have an infection that requires medical attention.

Call 911 or your local emergency services if you have a severe reaction and can’t seek immediate treatment by yourself.

Potential Complications

The following complications will require emergency medical care: 

  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • Swollen eyes, especially if they’re swollen shut
  • Increased itching and discomfort that affects your sleep
  • A rash that spreads to the mouth and other parts of the face and body
  • A fever over 100° F (37.8° C)

How Long Does a Poison Ivy Rash Last?

Poison ivy dermatitis can appear as soon as 4 to 12 hours after exposure to urushiol. However, some people may take days to develop the rash. The severity differs from person to person.

In most people, the blistering rash will crust over and clear in about 2 to 3 weeks without treatment. However, bacterial infections or other complications can delay healing.7 The itchiness may persist until the rash clears completely.

How to Prevent a Poison Ivy Rash

The oil from poison ivy causes poison ivy dermatitis. To prevent it, you must take the following precautions:

  • Stay away from the plant
  • If you must touch it, wear protective gear, such as gloves
  • Remove the plant from your garden or other high-risk areas
  • Wash your skin or pet's fur if you suspect contact with poison ivy
  • Clean contaminated objects, like gardening tools, eyeglasses, mobile phones, or clothing
  • Apply over-the-counter barrier creams like bentoquatam or Ivy X Pre-Contact Skin Solution
  • Scrub under nails when washing hands after contact with poison ivy

Poison ivy smoke can irritate your lungs, causing severe allergic respiratory reactions. Avoid burning plant piles that contain poison ivy leaves, roots, or stems.

Summary

  • Poison ivy is a plant known to cause allergic reactions in most people after contact with its leaves, stems, or roots.
  • Common symptoms include an itchy blistering rash on parts of the body that come into contact with the plant's poison (urushiol).
  • If a poison ivy rash affects your eye, clean yourself thoroughly and apply home remedies, such as calamine and hydrocortisone creams and lotions.
  • Severe reactions, like swollen eyes, fever, and difficulty breathing, may require emergency treatment.
  • You can prevent poison ivy rash by avoiding the plant and cleaning objects suspected of urushiol traces.
Updated on  December 28, 2022
8 sources cited
Updated on  December 28, 2022
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Protect Yourself From Poisonous Plants,” www.cdc.gov, 2010.
  2. Gladman. “Toxicodendron Dermatitis: Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac,” Wilderness & Environmental Medicine, 2017.
  3. CNN. “How can I get rid of poison ivy?,” www.cnn.com, 2010.
  4. Ohio State University. “Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, and Poison Sumac for Trainers and Supervisors,” ohioline.osu.edu, 2018.
  5. Harvard Medical School. “Poison ivy: Scratchin’ like a hound?,” www.health.harvard.edu, 2022.
  6. Pazyar et al., “Oatmeal in dermatology: A brief review,” Indian Journal of Dermatology, 2012.
  7. American Academy of Dermatology Association (AADA). “Poison Ivy, Oak, And Sumac: What Does The Rash Look Like?,” www.aad.org.
  8. National Library of Medicine. “Bentoquatam Topical,” medlineplus.gov, 2018.
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