Ask the Allergist: Does Poison Ivy Cause Asthma?



Q: “My 10-year-old is in scouts and when they go camping, he comes back covered in poison ivy. Then he spends the next 1-3 weeks with horrible asthma. Is there a connection?” 

Martha White, MD: Poison ivy and asthma are not directly related. However, children on outings that involve a romp through the woods and other poison ivy habitats are often exposed to exercise, pollen and mold, each of which can cause asthma flare-ups. Depending on the time of year, cold air can also initiate asthma.

Children with well-controlled asthma and maximal lung function tend to have fewer asthma problems for a shorter period of time after encountering asthma triggers as compared to children with less well-controlled asthma.

My suggestion: In the future, make an appointment with your child’s doctor prior to camping trips to be sure that lung function is maximized, and to see if the doctor has any recommendations for increasing preventive anti-inflammatory medications and/or adding antihistamines during outings.

Your son will certainly benefit from learning to recognize and avoid poison ivy. To be safe, your son should wear long pants, long-sleeved shirts and shoes and socks (not sandals or flip-flops) to prevent exposure. And be sure to wash his clothes as soon as he’s back home.


Martha White, MD, FACAAI, is a board-certified allergist at the Institute of Asthma and Allergy in Wheaton, Md., a member of Allergy & Asthma Network’s Board of Directors, and a fellow of the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.


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