published Thursday, June 7th, 2012

Ask a Doctor

Q: What is the best thing to do for poison ivy? My cousin said to put bleach on it, but I'm not so sure.

A: You are wise to question your cousin's advice. Putting bleach on a poison-ivy rash will only further damage the tissue. Most people are allergic to the oil of the poison-ivy plant, which is a common weed in the Southeast. After exposure to the oil, the rash can start to appear hours to several days later. Contrary to popular opinion, the fluid in the blisters does not cause the rash to spread. A new rash can appear if re-exposure to the oil occurs, either from direct contact or via residual oil under the fingernails, on clothing or shoes or from pet hair. It can only spread to another person if the oil remains on the skin. After possible exposure, wash skin, clothes and shoes with soap and water. Prevention is best; teach your children what the plant looks like and to avoid it. If the rash is mild, use calamine lotion, 1 percent hydrocortisone, and consider an antihistamine to help with itching. For severe reactions involving extensive parts of the body or facial swelling, consult with your physician. You may need an oral steroid.

-- Dr. Tonia Cox, Pediatric Diagnostic Associates; member, Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society

Readers: To submit a question for a medical doctor, e-mail it to Clint Cooper at ccooper@ timesfreepress.com. See this space each week for answers.

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