published Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

Ask a Doctor: Will I gradually build up a resistance to poison ivy/oak (with enough exposure)?

Dr. Susan Raschal

Q: I am allergic to poison ivy/oak. I have a lot of it on my lot and, although I try to kill it, it still comes back. My question is this: If I intentionally contract it every few months, will I gradually build up a resistance to it?

A. An estimated 25 to 40 million Americans require medical treatment after exposure to poison ivy/oak/sumac, and there is no cure. Unlike allergen immunotherapy (allergy shots or drops), which cures allergies using gradual, increasing concentrations of the allergen (pollen, mold, animals and pests), poison ivy dermatitis results from a distinct immune response that doesn't respond to allergy shots or drops. Poison ivy, oak or sumac can cause a dermatitis when urushiol, the allergenic compound found in the plants, penetrates the skin and causes a reaction several hours to days following exposure. When you remove the poison ivy, dig down into the soil at least 8 inches and remove all of the roots. Be sure to go to the end of the root. Should the poison ivy regrow, look for it in nearby trees. It will keep reseeding itself as long as you don't get the parent vine.

— Dr. Susan Raschal, Covenant Allergy, and Asthma Care; member, Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society

Readers: To submit a question for medical doctors, email it to Clint Cooper at See this space each week for answers.

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