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Poison Ivy on Your Feet – What You Can Do

Reviewed by
Dr. Benjamin Weaver

If you spend a lot of time outdoors in the spring and summertime, particularly if you like to go barefoot, you run the risk of contracting poison ivy on your feet.

Poison ivy can grow in a multitude of environments: out in the woods, in parks, or even in your own backyard.

Here we will discuss the various ways you can protect yourself against poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac, and how to treat the rash that often results from exposure to these plants.

Symptoms of Poison Ivy on the Feet To Watch For

Most of us are familiar with the symptoms that occur after exposure to poison ivy, poison sumac, or poison oak. The condition caused by these plants is known as contact dermatitis, which is nothing more than an allergic reaction.

Most people—an estimated 80 to 90 percent of people, in fact—are susceptible to this condition, which is characterized by itchiness and a red rash on affected areas of skin. The skin may appear to have raised bumps on it, and in some cases blisters may even appear.

These symptoms will generally appear on your feet within twelve to forty-eight hours of your contact with the offending plant.

If your poison ivy is on your feet and you were barefoot at the time of your exposure, then the resulting rash and blisters will most likely be concentrated in the plantar region (the sole).

If you were wearing sandals or sneakers without socks, your soles will have been protected, and the worst of the poison ivy on your feet will probably be around your ankles.

How Did I Develop Poison Ivy on My Feet?

The terrible, itchy rash on the feet that results from exposure to poison ivy, oak, or sumac is caused by an oil known as urushiol, which is found inside the leaves of all three plants.

When the leaves are broken, bruised, or damaged in any way, the oil is released and can get on your skin if you touch the plant.

This oil is also in the stems and fruit of the plant, but human exposure usually results from contact with the leaves, which are especially tender and subject to bruising in the summertime.

It is actually possible to touch poison ivy without contracting the associated rash, since the urushiol oil is found inside the plant and not on its surface, but because these plants are so fragile it is rare to find one that is completely intact.

Complications—When to Seek Medical Treatment for Poison Ivy on Your Feet

In most cases, a poison ivy rash on your feet will resolve itself within a week or so without medical care. However, you should go immediately to the emergency room if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Trouble swallowing
  • Trouble breathing
  • Spreading of the rash to cover a significant portion of your body
  • Spreading of the rash to your face or genitals

Treatment Options for Poison Ivy on Your Feet

The first thing you should do after realizing you have walked through poison ivy (or some other poisonous plant) is wash your feet several times with soap and water.

If you are able to wash your feet quickly enough, you may be able to minimize and possibly even avoid the effects of poison ivy on your feet. Once the rash appears, however, all you can do is wait it out.

Calamine lotion will ease the itching somewhat, and it may be helpful to soak your feet as often as possible in a solution of warm water and baking soda or Epsom salts.

Be sure to wash all clothing that may have come into contact with the urushiol oil. If your socks have been contaminated, it may be best simply to throw them away.

As noted earlier in this article, medical treatment for poison ivy on your feet is generally not necessary, and the rash will go away on its own within two or three weeks.

Contrary to popular myth, poison ivy rash cannot be spread by scratching—by the time the rash develops, the oil that has caused it will have long since washed away (assuming, of course, that you are reasonably diligent about your personal hygiene on a day-to-day basis).

How Can I Prevent Getting Poison Ivy on My Feet?

The best way to prevent poison ivy on your feet is to wear proper footwear, especially if you are going hiking in the woods. Sneakers are preferable to sandals, and good, solid hiking boots are even better.

It is also important to wear socks, especially if you are wearing sneakers that leave your ankles exposed. Long pants are better than shorts, for obvious reasons.

If you’re spending an afternoon in a public park, think twice before going barefoot. If your exercise routine includes barefoot running, consider your route carefully, and try walking it first while wearing shoes, looking for places where poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac may be hiding.

Most important—learn to recognize poisonous plants on sight so that you can avoid touching them by accident. Each leaf comprises three leaflets, the middle of which is longer than the other two. Remember the old rhyme: leaves of three, let it be.

When working to rid your lawn and garden of these plants, always uproot them so that they do not grow back, and never burn them! Burning poison ivy (or any plant whose leaves contain urushiol) releases toxic smoke that can cause much worse problems than itchy feet if it is inhaled.

Medical References:

    The National Institutes of Health The Mayo Clinic The American Academy of Dermatology The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

This page was last updated on October 1st, 2015

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