Poison ivy can work itchy evil on your skin – here’s how
Julie Morrish // Shutterstock
Sneezing, runny nose, congestion, wheezing, inflamed eyes, skin irritation: None of these is an ideal reaction to have when playing with an adorable puppy. As many as three in 10 allergy sufferers in the United States are sensitive to cats and dogs, according to The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America—an unfortunate prognosis for any animal lover.
Allergies are the result of oversensitive immune systems, which can be triggered by a pet’s dander, urine, or saliva to bring on allergic reactions. In addition, pet hair—which in and of itself is not an allergen—can transport other allergens such as pollen. Because of this, some people may believe they have a pet allergy when it is the dust or pollen on a pet’s coat that is triggering an allergic reaction. Pet allergens are easy to transfer on clothes, which is why some homes that have never had pets in them can still have pet allergens. Allergens can also stick around for months or years on upholstery, carpets, or any other home fabrics.
Luckily, allergies don’t have to prevent you from joining the 65% of American households with a pet at home. Yes, there are allergy shots, nasal sprays, and antihistamine pills that can all help minimize the symptoms of pet allergies, but a more proactive approach may be seeking the right dog. To the delight of sneezing dog-lovers everywhere, the American Kennel Club has compiled a list of 23 dog breeds that are considered hypoallergenic. Though no dogs are truly 100% allergy-proof—and everyone’s allergies are different—the following breeds have non-shedding coats that produce significantly less dander. Some of them are even hairless. Stacker has listed the dogs by the American Kennel Club’s 2019 dog breed popularity rankings in the following compilation. Editor's note: There are no AKC popularity rankings for the first three dogs.
Read on to find out which hairless "Inca" dog made the list—and get excited to adopt a new furry family member.
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Yuri Hooker // Wikimedia Commons
- Popularity rank: not ranked
Though coated Peruvian Inca orchid dogs exist, most of the breed is entirely hairless, making them a good choice for people with allergies. These dogs are sight hounds: Much like greyhounds and whippets, they have sleek, muscular bodies well-suited to running.
- Popularity rank: not ranked
Like the pasta dish of the same name, the Bolognese breed originates in Italy. Though Bolognese dogs have soft, fluffy coats, they don’t shed. Allergy sufferers can also ask groomers to keep the coat cropped to just one inch.
- Popularity rank: not ranked
These rustic French water dogs have dense, curly coats that are well-suited to swimming and hunting—the barbet’s original job. Calm, intelligent and amiable, these tall, sturdy dogs need regular exercise to stay at their happiest.
Julie Morrish // Shutterstock
- Popularity rank: #170 (out of 193)
The Irish water spaniel’s tight, reddish-brown curls contrast with its long, skinny tail. These active, high-energy pups are relatively easy to train, but need plenty of daily exercise.
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volofin // Shutterstock
- Popularity rank: #158 (out of 193)
German for “little lion,” lowchen are popular companion dogs. Just over a foot tall at the shoulder, this non-shedding dog is known for its bravery—and, of course, its tiny lion-like appearance given its mane and tail.
Elyssa Albert // Wikimedia Commons
- Popularity rank: #151 (out of 193)
Once you see a Bedlington terrier, you won’t forget him anytime soon: This dog’s pear-shaped head, arched back, sheep-like coat and hairless ears make him instantly recognizable. Bedlingtons are energetic, charming and fun-loving—though they like cuddling up on the couch, too.
- Popularity rank: #150 (out of 193)
The fearless, animated affenpinscher are known affectionately as “monkey dogs” by owners. The terrier-like dog is under one foot tall but greatly confident—not to mention loyal and amusing.
- Popularity rank: #137 (out of 193)
This 3,000-year-old breed dates back to the time of the Aztecs, when they were revered as the companion of the gods. Allergy sufferers might revere them for another reason: The Xoloitzcuintli breed does not have any hair, so they don’t shed dander. Owners might need to apply sunscreen to the dogs before prolonged sun exposure, however.
- Popularity rank: #133 (out of 193)
These sturdy, square terriers have a show-stopping coat that ranges from light blue-gray to dark slate. Named for its home county in Ireland, this breed is well known as a hard-working dog.
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Nyaah // Wikimedia Commons
- Popularity rank: #124 (out of 193)
This breed from Louisiana comes in both hairless and coated varieties, either of which would be a good choice for people with allergies. American hairless terriers are inquisitive, intelligent, and playful.
WildStrawberry // Shutterstock
- Popularity rank: #111 (out of 193)
Despite the Afghan hound’s long, silky locks, this dog is in fact hypoallergenic. Still, prospective owners should expect to spend plenty of time bathing, brushing, and grooming an Afghan hound.
Divedeeper // Wikimedia Commons
- Popularity rank: #97 (out of 193)
With their pointy ears, bushy eyebrows, and dignified whiskers, standard schnauzers are downright adorable. These fearless, high-spirited farm dogs make excellent companions and capable watchdogs.
- Popularity rank: #90 (out of 193)
The lagotto Romagnolo’s thick, curly, waterproof coat only sheds minimally, so these dogs would be a good match for allergy sufferers. Traditionally, these dogs are trained to hunt for precious Italian truffles.
- Popularity rank: #81 (out of 193)
Known as the “royal dog of Madagascar,” the coton de Tulear’s name was inspired by the breed’s soft, cotton-like white coat (“coton” is French for cotton). Remarkably sympathetic and entertaining, these dogs make devoted lifelong companions.
Sherri Cavalier // Flickr
- Popularity rank: #80 (out of 193)
The name of this unusual-looking dog refers to its spiky hairdo, furry socks, and fluffy tail—quite the look, especially when combined with an otherwise hairless body. As you might guess, shedding is not a problem with this breed.
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Paul Kounine // Wikimedia Commons
- Popularity rank: #71 (out of 193)
The larger, more powerful cousin of the standard schnauzer, the giant schnauzer maintains the same characteristics: bold, valiant, intelligent, and loyal.
- Popularity rank: #54 (out of 193)
Though the soft-coated Wheaten terrier’s wavy hair is low-shedding, it also requires constant grooming to keep it from matting. These exuberant dogs have lovely, joyful personalities with just a tinge of stereotypical terrier stubbornness.
- Popularity rank: #49 (out of 193)
This breed took its spot on the world stage in 2010 when the Obama family adopted Bo, a Portuguese water dog. A few years later, the family also adopted Sunny, another of these athletic, allergy-friendly dogs.
Svenska Mässan // Wikimedia Commons
- Popularity rank: #43 (out of 193)
Bichon frises have personality for miles: This breed is known as a jokester, with oodles of confidence and a love for people. They’re adorable, too, with a white hypoallergenic coat that almost gives them the appearance of a teddy bear.
- Popularity rank: #36 (out of 193)
Maltese only grow about 7–9 inches tall, but a long, silky coat that drapes all the way to their feet give them an outsized presence. Though they look petite and perhaps even a little precious, Maltese have hardy, adaptable personalities that leave them ready for anything.
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Pharaoh Hound // Wikimedia Commons
- Popularity rank: #18 (out of 193)
The smallest of the three schnauzer breeds looks a little stockier and more gruff than their larger cousins, but still has the same low-shedding wiry coat and bright, friendly demeanor.
hj_west // Flickr
- Popularity rank: #12 (out of 193)
These tiny terriers are known for their hypoallergenic curtain-like head-to-toe coats (you can’t even see their feet). Despite their stature, they can be solid watchdogs. Once known for their Victorian-era companionship, they are now a favorite of city-dwellers.
- Popularity rank: #6 (out of 193)
The most popular breed on this list, the poodle nevertheless has a reputation as a bit of a prissy dog. That couldn’t be further from the truth: These regal, elegant dogs are typically eager, energetic, and extraordinarily smart. Their soft, fluffy coats can be trimmed either in the elaborate “continental” style, or the simpler sporting look.
You may also like: Dog breeds with the most timeless popularity
Be on the lookout for poison ivy’s three leaves on a reddish stem. raksybH/iStock via Getty Images Plus
A patient recently came in to our dermatology clinic with a rash and a story similar to so many others. He had been out camping with friends a few days earlier and helped carry some logs to stoke the fire. Little did he know he was going to pay for lending a helping hand. A couple days later, red patches appeared on his forearms and chest, which soon began to itch miserably and form water blisters.
If you have ever spent any time outdoors – in the woods, working in the yard, even at the edges of a playground – maybe you’ve experienced something similar after encountering poison ivy. It’s not easy to forget.
Encounters with a botanical irritant
Poison ivy is found everywhere in the continental U.S., mostly in Eastern and Midwestern states. Unfortunately for us humans, it is a hardy plant that can grow under many different conditions. Its favorite places are in wooded areas, gardens and roadsides with partial shade or full sunlight.
And despite being a nuisance to people, poison ivy is an important member of the ecosystem. Its leaves, stems and berries are food for animals, and its vines can be shelter for small animals like toads and mice, even helping them climb trees. Climate change is turning out to benefit poison ivy, allowing for larger and more irritating plants.
You can usually spot poison ivy by its infamous three dull or glossy green leaves coming off a red stem. Sometimes there are flowers or fruits coming off the end of a branch.
Despite its name, poison ivy is not poisonous. It carries an oily sap on its leaves and stems called urushiol, which is irritating to most people’s skin. In fact, 85% to 90% of people are allergic to poison ivy’s urushiol to some degree, while the rest lack sensitivity to this oil. You can occasionally see the urushiol oil as black spots on poison ivy leaves. Urushiol is what gives poison oak and poison sumac their evil power, too.
Touching poison ivy directly is obviously a bad idea. You can even get into trouble by touching clothing, pets or anything else that has brushed against the plant and picked up some of the urushiol. If a contaminated object isn’t cleaned, the urushiol will remain lying in wait – it can still cause a rash after hours, days or even years. Another danger is smoke from burning poison ivy, which can also affect your skin, as well as your nose, mouth, windpipe and lungs if you breathe it in.
It’s a myth that the fluid from inside a blister can spread the rash. EzumeImages/iStock via Getty Images Plus
From oil to rash
Poison ivy’s rash can come in many forms, from small, red bumps to blisters or red patches. Whichever way it shows up, it is almost always mindbogglingly itchy.
When you get “poisoned,” you won’t know right away. It can take anywhere from four hours to 10 days for the rash to appear, depending on how much urushiol gets on your skin, how sensitive you are to it and how many times you have been exposed to poison ivy previously.
Between exposure and itchy anguish, your body goes through a complex identification and reaction process. When the oil gets into your skin, your immune system’s sensor cells recognize urushiol as foreign to your body. These sensor cells then call in protector cells to the area, warning them of the invasion. The protector cells defend your body against the intruder by attacking the urushiol in the skin. Unfortunately, some of your body’s normal skin cells are casualties of this war, which is what leads to the itchiness and swelling of a poison ivy rash.
Your protector cells will then sit near the skin for many years and stand guard for urushiol if it ever shows up again. If it does, they remember having encountered this bad guy before, and their response is often faster and more powerful than the first time.
This rash is a type of allergic contact dermatitis – in the same family as the rashes some people get from wearing jewelry or metal belt buckles or from using certain fragrances or cosmetics.
Learning what poison ivy looks like so you can avoid it is a crucial part of your defense. Onfokus/E+ via Getty Images
What to do once the damage is done
The saying “leaves of three; leave them be” highlights the best strategy to prevent poison ivy: avoidance. But if you do happen to come into contact with poison ivy, the first step should always be to remove and wash any clothing that has touched the plant. Gently but thoroughly wash your skin immediately with soap and water. It can also help to clean under your fingernails and cut your nails short to prevent the urushiol from spreading if you scratch your skin.
Allergic contact dermatitis from poison ivy almost always results in a rash that usually lasts two to three weeks before it completely goes away.
It will eventually clear up on its own, but you can try some over-the-counter and home remedies to keep the itchiness and spread of the rash at bay. The blisters that form are not infected and do not normally require antibiotics. If you scratch though – and it can be very hard to resist – open skin can get infected.
To reduce itchiness, cool, wet compresses can help, as can a soak in a cool bath with baking soda or oatmeal bath products. Calamine lotions or creams containing menthol can also cut the itch a bit. Over-the-counter cortisone cream or ointment can be used for the first several days after contact with poison ivy to quiet down your body’s reaction and keep the rash from getting severe. Taking antihistamines like diphenhydramine at night can slightly reduce itchiness and it has the benefit of helping you sleep better.
Seeing your doctor usually is not necessary for a poison ivy rash unless it spreads over large areas, becomes infected, lasts more than three weeks or is a rare extreme case that affects your breathing.
The best offense is a good defense. When you’re in the great outdoors, be careful what you touch and, when in doubt, if it has leaves of three, leave them be.
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The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.