Can you go swimming in a lake with Poison Ivy?

Poison Ivy is a contact dermatitis irritant that grows in many environments, including near lakes and the woods. 

If you have been exposed to poison ivy but don’t know for sure if you’ve contracted it, it is best to assume that you have. The consequences of not doing so could be dire, especially if your skin is sensitive to poison ivy’s oil.


Is it OK to swim when you have Poison Ivy?

Yes, you can go swimming with poison ivy. It’s possible the oil could wash off your skin and contact another person, but it would be a minimal amount, and the water would likely wash the oil off of them. A more significant concern is that poison ivy could be growing around lakes on the shore.

The oil found in poison ivy is not able to travel through water. Therefore, you won’t break out in a rash from going into the water and contacting poison ivy or being exposed to it.

Even if you have a wound like a cut, missing toenail, or newly extracted tooth, there is an extremely low likelihood of the oil causing any harm. There are other reasons to avoid the water, like introducing bacteria to affected areas, but poison ivy should not be an issue. Poison ivy does not grow underwater, so the oil is not naturally present in lakes or ponds.

Even swimming in pools with poison ivy is fine. The chlorine will not have adverse effects. However, you will deal with more problems from the pool if you have bleached hair.

The plant’s oils are spread through direct contact with urushiol oil, whether from the plant or through contact with an afflicted person or pet. This property means that poison ivy must touch the skin. It takes 15 minutes for the oil to bond with your skin, and there is no way for this to happen while you are swimming.

If you’re worried, you can try purchasing a full-body wetsuit to swim in, which can protect your sensitive skin areas. You can even wear these when swimming in a pool. 

If you go swimming in a lake and the water washes the oil off of your skin, another person can come in contact with it and not need to panic. Poison ivy differs from conditions like ringworm that require infected individuals to stay out of communal swimming locations.

Does Poison Ivy grow in moist areas?

Yes, poison ivy does grow in moist areas. It also grows in dry areas and can grow in partial shade and bright sun. Urushiol oil is even present in dead plants.

Although poison ivy can grow just about anywhere, it loves wooded areas. Trails in these areas are hotspots where you need to be especially careful. Poison ivy oil is found primarily in the plant’s leaves and not on its branches or roots.

Facts about Poison Ivy

While poison ivy is certainly unwanted and hazardous, knowing some facts about the plant can assist in harm prevention:

  • Skin reactions vary from itchiness to blisters that feel like fire. Painful effects will appear within 24 to 48 hours of initial contact.
  • The worst blistering occurs sometime within the three weeks following exposure. The blisters will eventually dry up and crust over.
  • If you have poison ivy, stay out of wet areas, especially if you have small children who may rub their eyes after crawling through the grass.
  • If you have a family member with poison ivy, keep them away from others until you can take action to ensure everything containing urushiol oil is cleaned or contained.
  • The best solution is to wait until after your skin heals before heading out to the lake, but you’re highly unlikely to give anyone a rash if you do swim.

How to identify Poison Ivy?

Poison ivy changes colour throughout the year. So, if you come across an odd-coloured ivy plant, it may be worth your time and energy to inspect the leaves. The plant will have a red tint in spring, green in the summer, and yellow or orange in fall.

What to do if you get a Poison Ivy rash?

The Poison ivy plant is not poisonous, but the oil causes blistering rashes. Pour rubbing alcohol on the affected area, and it will lessen the severity of your inflammation. Rinse with cool water but do not scrub.

After your rash is gone, you can use calamine lotion. If the blisters are huge or itchy, try an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream. Many home remedies work well.

If you have a severe reaction, go to the emergency room. Most doctors will prescribe a steroid cream and oral steroids (or oral antihistamines) to help your body’s healing process. Ensure that you keep your hands away from your eyes and mouth when dealing with poison ivy oil or your rash. Severe damage may result if this happens.

Do not burn poison ivy. The smoke and urushiol oil can cause severe respiratory problems. Use gloves and long sleeves when raking or pulling it. Besides this, make sure you wash your hands thoroughly after dealing with the plant. Clean any tools that touched the oil.

Can pets get a Poison Ivy rash? 

Dogs and cats will not get poison ivy rashes, but the oil easily transfers from their body to your skin. So be alert if your dog is running around in the woods. 

If you have an exposed pet, wash it with soap and water. Only certain primates get a poison ivy rash, so pet lizards, snakes, birds, fish, and rodents are safe.

How to know if there’s Poison Ivy in your area?

If you are unsure if poison ivy is in your area, look for the following:

  • Three leaflets per leaf: The middle leaflet is the longest
  • Leaves that are smooth or have jagged edges
  • Leaves with a glossy or flat appearance
  • A shrub or climbing vine formation
  • Hard white fruits that resemble small berries

Poison ivy generally forms in colonies, so if you see one plant, there is a good chance that more are nearby. The plant proliferates and spreads by creating seeds and roots. The spread is aggressive, as can be seen on roadsides and trails.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to swimming with poison ivy, the best course of action is to wash your skin after swimming and thoroughly dry it off with a large towel. Then, stay away from the edges of the water where the plant could be growing. Or, find a lake that’s free of this plant for completely safe swimming. 

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