10 Quick Facts about Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac

Community Member

Here on My Skin Care Connection we get a lot of questions about itchy rashes.   With summertime soon approaching I predict that questions about rashes will increase because we also see an increase in some types of skin irritants. One such irritant which is more prevalent in the warm summer months is poisonous plants such as poison ivy, oak and sumac. I am sure you have heard some things about poison ivy especially if you have ever been on a camping trip or hikes in the woods. The most memorable is the saying, "Leaves of three, beware of thee." But there is a lot more to know in order to prevent, detect, and treat the symptoms of coming into contact with any of these poisonous plants.

Here are ten quick tips about Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac that you should know:

1. A picture is worth a thousand words. Here is what these poisonous plants look like.


Poison Ivy and poison oak have three leaflets with the middle leaflet having a longer stalk than the side leaflets. Poison Ivy can grow as a vine or low shrubs. Poison sumac can either be a large bush or a small tree. Poison sumac usually has seven or more leaves on a stem and the leaves may have shiny black spots on them.

2. Here is what the rash from poison ivy can look like.


You can see inflammation and blisters form where the plant has come into contact with the skin.

3. Many people develop what is known as contact dermatitis or inflammation of the skin when they come into contact with poison ivy, oak, or sumac due to an oil-based substance in the resin of the plant's leaves, stems and branches called urushiol.

4. While some people may not develop a rash or irritation the first time they come into contact with poison ivy, oak, or sumac, the next contact may produce an skin reaction. The rash caused by the urushiol in these plants can begin as little as a few hours after initial skin contact or can be delayed as much as a week.

5. It is possible to develop contact dermatitis from poison ivy without ever touching the plant. The allergy causing substance, urushiol, can contaminate clothing, footwear, and your pet's fur. This oil can remain active for as long as a year as it does not evaporate.

6. Never burn poison ivy as the smoke inhalation can also cause a severe allergic reaction as the soot can carry the urushiol oil.   Get help immediately if it is suspected that you have breathed in smoke from burning poison ivy.

7. You can get a rash from any part of these poison plants including the leaves, stems, vines and roots. It doesn't matter if the plant is dead. Some people may get poison ivy from firewood they pick up in winter which has the dead vines wrapped around the logs.

8. Scratching your skin after being exposed to poison ivy, oak, and sumac can spread the rash if the oil has not been washed from the skin. The fluid from the blisters which may develop as a skin reaction is not contagious.

9. If you have come into contact with poison ivy, oak, or sumac cleanse your skin with rubbing alcohol. Next, rinse your skin with water. The next step is showering with soap. Washing your skin with a dishwashing liquid with a degreaser agent such as Dawn, Joy, or Pamolive is said to neutralize the urushiol oil of these poisonous plants. Make sure to wash clothing, tools, and your pet's fur if they have come into contact with poison ivy, oak, or sumac.

10. Mild cases of poison ivy may be treated with calamine lotion, Aveeno colloidal oatmeal baths, and taking an over the counter antihistamine such as Benadryl. If you experience swelling or have difficulty breathing, seek immediate medical treatment or go to your nearest emergency room. If your itching is severe and cannot be controlled by over the counter remedies, if your rash spreads to your face, lips or genitals, or if your rash shows signs of infection such as yellow pus oozing from blisters please contact your doctor.

For more information about Poison Ivy, Oak and Sumac please read these articles from Health Central:

Further Resources may be found on the following web sites: