Swimming with the Poison Ivy or Oak Rash

Can you catch poison oak or poison ivy from swimming in a pool with a person who has a rash from one of the plants?

Young girl in an pool toy in water to issustrate swimming with Poison Ivy Rash or Poison Oak Rash

Dr. Greene’s Answer:

A rash from poison ivy or oak is not at all contagious. People get the rash from oil that gets on their skin from the plants. BUT, until the oil is removed, they are contagious whether or not they have a rash. The oil can be removed by washing in warm soapy water.

Swimming with Poison Ivy Rash or Poison Oak Rash

Catching poison oak or ivy from swimming in a pool is very unlikely. Pool water might wash the oil off and someone else could get it by touching the oil in the water, but the exposure would be tiny and would likely be removed by further swimming or by showering after the swim.

So why does the rash spread?

There are three reasons that the rash spreads.

First of all, until people exposed to poison ivy or oak take a first bath or shower, any place they touch after being exposed will spread the oil and along with it, the rash. They can spread the rash by touching the oil on their own hands, their clothes or even their dog.

The second reason the rash spreads has to do with variable amounts of oil and variable protectiveness of skin. Wherever you get the most oil, on the most vulnerable area of skin, will break out first. Where the skin is thicker or there is less oil, the rash may not appear until several days later — so it only appears to be spreading.

Eczema patches are especially vulnerable to poison oak and ivy because of the skin’s increased sensitivity.

The third reason that poison ivy rashes spread is that the red itchy rash is caused by a histamine release in the skin. Scratching releases more histamine and can make the rash spread setting up an itch-scratch-itch cycle.

The good news is that when the rash turns to blisters and the blisters pop, that honey-colored liquid and honey-colored crust is not contagious at all.

Dr. Alan Greene

Dr. Greene is the founder of DrGreene.com (cited by the AMA as “the pioneer physician Web site”), a practicing pediatrician, father of four, & author of Raising Baby Green & Feeding Baby Green. He appears frequently in the media including such venues as the The New York Times, the TODAY Show, Good Morning America, & the Dr. Oz Show.

  1. Laney

    How do I know if the oil has come out

  2. John Hayduke

    Can you go swimming in a lake with poison ivy with steroid medication?

  3. Unknown Name

    If poison ivy gets on your eyelid, could that result in eye damage eventualy?

    • Reilley Hegeman

      Most likely not, try not to scratch it and it will be fine.

  4. Kelli

    if you itch the poison ivy and it turns into a scab what do you do? and will peroxide help it?


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