Is This Rash Poison Ivy?

Patient Expert
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Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac are skin irritants. If you're outside in nature, be aware of these plants. Here are facts on how to avoid, detect, and treat poison ivy.

Know What Poison Ivy Looks Like

Poison Ivy and Poison Oak have three leaflets with a longer middle leaf. Remember the saying, "When in three, let it be." Poison Ivy can grow as a vine or low shrub. Poison sumac can grow as a large bush or small tree. Poison sumac usually has seven or more leaves on a stem with black spots on the leaves.


A rash, or inflammation, occurs where the skin comes in contact with the oil-based resin of the poison ivy, oak, or sumac.

Skin irritation

While some people may not develop a rash or irritation the first time they come in contact with poison ivy, there could be a skin reaction the next time. The rash caused by the irritant plant oil can start in as little as a few hours after initial skin contact or can be delayed as much as a week.

You can get poison ivy without touching the plant

It's possible to get poison ivy without ever touching the plant. The allergy causing substance, called urushiol, can contaminate clothing, shoes, socks, and even your pet's fur. This oil can remain active for as long as a year, if it doesn't evaporate.

Don't burn poison ivy

Never burn poison ivy because the smoke inhalation can cause a severe allergic reaction. The soot from the fire can carry urushiol oil. Get help immediately if you've inhaled smoke from burning poison ivy.

You can get a rash from every part of the plant

You can get a rash from any part of the plant, including the leaves, stems, vines, and roots. It doesn't matter if the plant is dead. Some people may even get a poison ivy reaction from burning firewood with dead vines wrapped around the logs.

Don't scratch

Scratching your skin after being exposed to poison ivy, oak, and sumac can spread the rash if the oil hasn't been washed from the skin. The fluid from the blisters, which can cause a skin reaction, is not contagious.

Clean your skin

If you come into contact with poison ivy, oak, or sumac, wash your skin with rubbing alcohol. Next, rinse with water. Afterwards, shower with soap. Washing your skin with a dishwashing liquid with a degreseaser agent is said to neutralize the urushiol oil.

Make sure to wash anything else that has come into contact with poison ivy as well, including clothing, tools, and your pet's fur.

Treat poison ivy

Mild cases of poison ivy may be treated with calamine lotion, Aveeno colloidal oatmeal baths, and over the counter antihistamines like Benadryl.

If you experience swelling or have trouble breathing, seek immediate medical treatment or go to your nearest emergency room. Seek professional help if the rash spreads to your face, lips or genital area.