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Poison Ivy, Oak, Sumac

What is Poison Ivy, Poison Oak or Poison Sumac?

There are three common plants that can cause rashes: poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac.

These plants can cause an allergic reaction in nearly 85 percent of the population. They are found in different parts of the country: poison ivy in the East and poison sumac in the West.

To be allergic to these plants, your child must first be “sensitized” to the oils. This means that the next time there is contact with the plant, a rash may occur.

What They Look Like

Poison ivy.

Photo 1. Poison Ivy

Poison oak.

Photo 2. Poison Oak

Poison sumac.

Photo 3. Poison Sumac

Causes of Allergic Reaction

The resin in the plants contains an oily substance called urushiol. Urushiol is easily transferred from the plants to toys, clothing and animals.

This chemical can remain active for a year or longer. It is important to know that the oils can also be transferred from clothing and pets and can be present in the smoke from a burning plant.

Poison ivy / oak cannot be spread by contact with the rash.

Signs and Symptoms of an Allergic Reaction

  • Rash is followed by bumps and blisters that itch.
  • Blisters will break, ooze and then crust over.
  • Extremely itchy skin in those areas will occur.

Treatment for Poison Ivy / Poison Oak

Making sure your child avoids the poisonous plants is the best treatment. It is important to teach your children what the plants look like and not to touch them. Bathe your pet if it comes in contact with the plants.

If contact with the plants has already occurred, remove the oils from the skin as soon as possible. Cleaning the skin with an ordinary soap within six hours after the initial exposure has proven to be effective. Wash all clothes and shoes.

If the rash is on the face, near the genitals, or all over the body, call your child’s doctor. After a medical history and physical exam, your child's doctor may prescribe a steroid cream, oral steroids or oral antihistamines to help with the swelling and itching.

Bathing in an oatmeal bath product may reduce itching. The doctor may also prescribe medication by mouth for itching.

The Spread of Poison Ivy / Poison Oak

Poison ivy / poison oak cannot be spread from person to person by touching the blisters, or from the fluid inside the blisters.

It can be spread if the oils remain on the skin, clothes or shoes. This is why washing your child's hands, clothes and shoes right away is very important.

Preventing Poison Ivy / Poison Oak

  • Teach all family members to recognize the plants.
  • Make sure your child wears long pants and long sleeves when poison ivy or poison oak is in the area.
  • Wash all clothes and shoes right away after your child has been outside.
  • Make sure your child does not touch a pet that might have been in contact with a poisonous plant.
  • Wash your child's hands thoroughly.

Last Updated 04/2022

Reviewed By Megan Tanner, RN

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