Key Points about Poison Ivy, Oak, or Sumac

  • Poison ivy, oak or sumac rashes occur when the skin reacts to urushiol, an oil found in these plants.
  • Contact with urushiol can occur from touching the plants directly, from touching an object that has come into contact with the plants, or from inhaling smoke from these plants while burning.
  • These rashes can be treated with cool baths, calamine lotion, corticosteroid creams and oral antihistamines.

Overview

Poison ivy, oak and sumac rashes result from contact with urushiol, a sticky oil found in each of these plants. These rashes are characterized by redness, itchiness and swelling, and may take up to three weeks to heal completely. Rashes from urushiol are common, although not all people are affected.

Rashes from poison ivy, oak or sumac can be treated at home by taking cool baths, applying calamine lotion or corticosteroid creams, and taking oral antihistamines.

Poison ivy causes

Rashes from poison ivy, oak or sumac result from contact with urushiol, an oily, sticky resin found in these plants. Rashes can develop after contact via:

  • Touching these plants directly
  • Touching other objects such as clothing or tools that have urushiol on them
  • Breathing in smoke from burning poison ivy, oak or sumac

Poison ivy risk factors

In areas where poison ivy, oak or sumac is present, the following activities may increase your risk of exposure:

  • Farming, gardening, or landscaping
  • Camping
  • Hunting or fishing
  • Construction

Poison ivy symptoms

If you are exposed to poison ivy, oak or sumac, you may experience the following symptoms on the skin with which it came into contact:

  • Itchiness
  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Blistering
  • Trouble breathing

Poison ivy prevention

Take the following measures to avoid being affected by poison ivy:

  • Learn to recognize poison ivy, oak and sumac so you can avoid them when you spend time outdoors
  • Wear socks, long pants and shirts when spending time in areas with these plants
  • Kill the poison ivy, oak and sumac plants in your yard with herbicide or by physically removing them
  • Clean objects and pets that may have come into contact with the plants
  • Apply certain creams that are designed to protect your skin from urushiol

Poison ivy diagnosis

Poison ivy rashes do not usually require medical diagnosis.

Poison ivy treatment

Home remedies for poison ivy include:

  • Applying corticosteroid cream or calamine lotion to the rash
  • Taking oral antihistamines such as Benadryl
  • Taking a cool bath mixed with oatmeal
  • Applying a cool, wet cloth to the rash

For severe poison ivy rashes, you doctor may prescribe:

  • Oral corticosteroids
  • Oral antibiotics to treat any infections

When to seek care

See your doctor after poison ivy exposure if:

  • Your mouth, eyes, or genitals develop rashes
  • Blisters from your rash are leaking pus
  • You have a fever over 100 F
  • Your rash is severely painful or covers a large portion of your body
  • Your rash is still present after a few weeks
  • You experience continued swelling
  • You develop breathing problems after inhaling smoke that may have come from poison ivy burning

Next Steps

Rashes from poison ivy, oak and sumac can take up to three weeks to heal. Avoid scratching the affected areas, as this can delay healing.