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Poison Ivy - Oak - Sumac

Is this your symptom?

  • Red rash with small blisters after touching poison ivy, oak, or sumac

Some Basics...

  • Poison Ivy, Sumac, and Oak are plants that can cause an itchy, red rash in some people. The oil contained in the plant leaves irritates the skin.
  • The next time a person is exposed to the plant, the rash shows up sooner. It will most often appear in 1-3 days.
  • The rash is located on exposed body surfaces (such as the hands) or areas touched by the hands (such as the face or genitals).


  • Rash is very itchy.
  • Rash occurs on exposed skin, like on the hands, arms, and legs. The rash can also occur on areas touched by the hands (the face or genitals).
  • There is localized redness, swelling, and weeping blisters.
  • The redness and blistering from the rash is often arranged in streaks or lines. This is because the leaves brush across the body in a line as a person walks past.


Here are some tips for preventing the rash from Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, or Poison Sumac.

  • Avoid Exposure: avoid these plants! This is very important if a person has had a bad reaction in the past.
  • Wash Skin Right Away After Exposure: if exposed, remove the plant oil from the skin. Wash the exposed part of the body with soap and water within 30 minutes. Wash clothes in warm soapy water.

When to Call for Poison Ivy - Oak - Sumac

Call Doctor or Seek Care Now

  • Fever and bright red area or streak (from open poison ivy sores)
  • Spreading redness from poison ivy rash (larger than 2 inches or 5 cm)
  • You feel weak or very sick
  • You think you need to be seen, and the problem is urgent

Call Doctor Within 24 Hours

  • Swelling is severe (such as eyes are swollen shut)
  • Severe poison ivy reaction in the past
  • Severe itching keeps you from working or going to school
  • Rash involves more than 25% of the body
  • Face, eyes, lips or genitals have a rash
  • Big blisters or sores
  • Taking oral steroids for more than 24 hours and rash getting worse
  • You think you need to be seen, but the problem is not urgent

Call Doctor During Office Hours

  • Rash lasts more than 3 weeks
  • You have other questions or concerns

Self Care at Home

  • Mild poison ivy, oak, or sumac rash

Care Advice for Mild Rash From Poison Ivy, Oak, or Sumac

  1. What You Should Know:
    • Poison Ivy, Sumac, and Oak are plants that can cause an itchy, red rash in some people. The oil contained in the plant leaves irritates the skin.
    • You can treat poison ivy, sumac, or oak rashes at home.
    • Here is some care advice that should help.
  2. Cold Water for Itching: Soak the itchy skin in cool water for 20 minutes. You can also massage it with an ice cube. Do this as often as needed to help with the itching and oozing.
  3. Hydrocortisone Cream for Itching:
    • Put 1% hydrocortisone cream on the rash 4 times a day. This will help with the itching. Use it for 5 days.
    • Keep the cream in the fridge. It feels better when put on cold.
    • Sold over-the-counter (OTC) in the United States as 0.5% and 1% cream.
    • Sold OTC in Canada as 0.5% cream.
  4. Antihistamine Medicine for Severe Itching:
    • You can take one of the following drugs for severe itching: diphenhydramine (Benadryl), cetirizine (Zyrtec), or loratadine (Claritin, Alavert).
    • They are over-the-counter (OTC) drugs. You can buy them at the drugstore.
    • Use the lowest amount of a drug that makes your hives and itching feel better.
    • Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) may make you feel drowsy. Loratadine and cetirizine do not cause you to feel as sleepy. They are also long-acting so they last 24 hours.
    • Read the instructions and warnings on the package insert for all medicines you take.
  5. Avoid Scratching: Try not to scratch the rash. This could cause a secondary infection from bacteria.
  6. New Blisters Appear:
    • If you get new blisters a few days after the first ones, you may have come into contact with the plant oil again.
    • Did you wear clothes that still have the plant oil on them? If yes, you need to wash the clothes.
    • Could it be on your shoes? If yes, clean the shoes.
    • A family dog can carry the plant oil on its hair from being out in the woods or fields. Is this a possibility? If yes, you need to shampoo the dog. Be certain to wear rubber gloves when you do!
  7. Spreading the Rash:
    • Poison ivy or oak is not contagious. Poison ivy or oak rash cannot be spread to others.
    • However, remember that the plant oil can stay on your clothes. It can also be carried in your pet's fur.
  8. What to Expect: The rash most often lasts 2 weeks. Treatment will help with the severity of the symptoms, not how long they last.
  9. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Rash lasts more than 3 weeks
    • It looks infected
    • You think you need to be seen
    • You get worse

And remember, contact your doctor if you develop any of the 'Call Your Doctor' symptoms.

Disclaimer: this health information is for educational purposes only. You, the reader, assume full responsibility for how you choose to use it.

Last Reviewed: 8/19/2019 1:00:28 AM
Last Updated: 3/14/2019 1:00:26 AM

Copyright 2000-2019 Health Navigator, LLC. All rights reserved.

Poison Ivy Rash on Forearm

The oil contained in the plant leaves irritates the skin.

The redness and blistering from the rash is often arranged in streaks or lines, because the leaf brushes across the body in a line as an individual walks past.

Poison Ivy Rash on Wrist
Poison Ivy Plant (Example 2)

Leaves grouped in threes characterize poison ivy. The scientific name for this plant is Toxicodendron radicans.

Poison Ivy is common in the eastern and central United States

Poison Ivy Plant (Example 1)

The leaves appear in groups of three.

Poison ivy grows as a small plant, as a bush, or as a vine.

Poison Oak Plant
Poison Sumac Plant

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