Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated. Corticosteroids for Poison Ivy, Oak, or Sumac. Topic Overview High-dose prescription corticosteroid medicines can reduce the symptoms of a poison ivy, oak, or sumac rash allergic contact dermatitis and sometimes reduce the severity and shorten the length of a rash.
Corticosteroid pills usually prednisone can dramatically reduce the symptoms caused by a strong reaction to poison ivy, oak, or sumac. Oral corticosteroids generally work better than other forms of these medicines for poison ivy, oak, or sumac. And they are usually taken until the symptoms are gone. How much medicine you take and for how long often depends on how soon you seek help after the rash appears.
Creams, gels, and ointments applied to the skin topical products may help reduce itching and redness. Examples of topical corticosteroids include clobetasol such as Temovate , betamethasone such as Diprolene , and fluticasone such as Cutivate. These types of corticosteroids have no effect on blisters. But they may be useful after blisters have disappeared. They should be used for the recommended amount of time, because the rash can reappear if they are stopped too soon. Breathing in the oil can result in an allergic reaction even if you have not touched the oil directly.
If you suspect you contracted it indirectly through clothing or a pet, wash out the oil. Otherwise, you will continue to be exposed to the oil and can contract it repeatedly. Steroid medications are the most effective way to calm the redness, itchiness, and swelling caused by poison ivy until the reaction resolves on its own.
Many people only see symptoms in the area that was directly exposed to the oil. If the affected area is localized, we use topical steroids to calm the rash and stop the swelling. Other people are highly allergic to the oil and need a more aggressive treatment. These patients may have a small contact area, but their whole body reacts.
In these cases, we prescribe systemic steroids, either through an intramuscular injection or oral medication. These systemic steroids will help calm the reaction and ease the symptoms more quickly. In some cases, a secondary infection sets in because the skin has been broken down. In these cases, your dermatologist may prescribe an oral antibiotic in addition to prescription steroids.
You can get poison ivy from objects that happen to pick up the oil including coats, clothing, gloves, and pets. Also, another person may have contacted the plant without realizing it and you came into contact with them afterward. If someone burns or cuts a poison ivy plant, the oil can become aerosolized. Poison ivy is not contagious in traditional ways. People cannot contract poison ivy from your rash. They can only get the poison ivy from the oil.
If you still have the oil or resin on you, you can spread it to people susceptible to developing a contact allergy to poison ivy. If you come into contact with poison ivy, wash your skin right away. Then, wash anything else the oil may have touched clothing, garden gloves, pets, etc. If you begin to experience redness, itchiness, and other symptoms of poison ivy, begin a topical steroid cream immediately.
If it seems to be spreading, call the dermatologist to begin a more systemic treatment.
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