Poison ivy looks like



The two most definitive traits of poison ivy or poison oak are 1) 3 leaflets on each compund leaf and 2) a red coloration at the apex where the three leaves connect. Poison ivy can climb trees as a vine (usually attaching close to the trunk), look like a shrub, or be a single, simple plant. All parts of a poison ivy plant–leaves, stem, fruits, and roots–produce an oil that can cause skin irritation in some people. Any contact of the body with the oils can cause a problem, whether from patting a dog that has just walked through poison ivy or touching clothes that have come in contact with the plant. You can even get a case of poison ivy internally by inhaling oil droplets that become airborne in smoke when the plants are burned. Also, you can get poison ivy in the winter simply by touching the stem, even though the leaves are gone.

Poison ivy has more facts, myths, and disagreements about its properties than most plants. You do not spread poison ivy by scratching where it itches, despite what some people say. New blisters and irritated areas can appear more than a week after exposure to the oils, but these merely represent the normal lag time that can occur after initial contact. Also, you cannot give poison ivy to others, except by bringing them into contact with the oils that are on your own body or clothes after encountering the plant.

Many forms of wildlife can eat poison ivy without being adversely affected. Dozens of kinds of birds including bobwhite quail eat the fruits, which are clusters of smooth, white berries that appear in late summer. One serious case of poison ivy was contracted by a wildlife student who sorted through the stomach contents of a recently killed deer. Among the data he recorded for his research on the diet of deer was that they sometimes eat a lot of poison ivy leaves.
According to dermatologists, the oils from poison ivy cause a contact dermatitis (which means inflammation of the skin) that cannot be distinguished from one caused by numerous other contactants. Among the plants known to cause dermatitis that is superficially similar to that caused by poison ivy are black walnut trees, red cedar, and fresh okra. However, many people, possibly most, are not affected by them.

The skin irritation–blisters, burning, itching–normally occurs 24 to 48 hours after contact with any part of a poison ivy plant, and expression of the ailment follows a bell-shaped curve. The most severe symptoms occur midway between a 2- to 24-day period. One treatment for relief of the symptoms of a severe case is a steroid, such as predisone. The steroid masks the symptoms even though the body’s response to the irritation continues. Some dermatologists caution that some doctors treat with steroids for too short a period. Thus if your reaction is following a 24-day cycle and you take steroids for only seven days, the symptoms could reappear before the peak of irritation has been reached.

Botanical field guides distinguish between poison ivy and poison oak. Subtle differences are noted, ones that do not really matter for recognition of the plants. Both have three leaves and produce the oils that make you itch. Some biologists claim that poison oak is more virulent than poison ivy.

You’ve heard of it. You’ve maybe even suffered from it. Those curved lines of red, itchy bumps or blisters after a hike or a play day in the woods are the tell-tell signs you’ve stumbled into poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac. Even if you are vigilant about avoiding the (mostly) three-leaved plants on your outdoor adventures, you can still become a victim. Here are five things you should know about these common rash-causing plants.

Poison ivy is a member of the Rhus or Toxicodendron genus of plants, which also includes poison oak and poison sumac. Poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac are common all over the United States. If you’re an avid hiker or otherwise enjoy being outdoors, it’s a good idea to become familiar with pictures of the various Rhus plants. And you may know the basics about poison ivy, oak and sumac — but you can never know too much!

5 things you may not know about poison ivy, oak and sumac

1. Fido is a carrier

While animals appear to be immune to urushiol, the resin from the Rhus plants that causes the allergic reaction, your pets can run through a patch of poison ivy, oak or sumac and transfer it to you.

When you give your pup a petting, you’ve made contact with urushiol just as if you’d touched the poison plants yourself. To avoid getting exposed, wear gloves and bathe your animal. If it isn’t feasible to give your pet a bath after every jaunt outside (this is especially true of cats), a baby wipe or a disposable washcloth might do the trick. Or simply deter your animals from romping around areas that have poison oak, ivy or sumac.

2. Heat can worsen the effects of a poison ivy rash

Heat tends to make the rash even more inflamed, according to Dr. Greene, online pediatric expert for WebMD and a variety of magazines. Dr. Greene suggests not only staying out of hot weather but advises patients with a poison ivy rash to take cool or lukewarm baths. If you happen to be camping, consider getting in the cold lake or stream to keep your body cool.

3. Burning poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac can result in severe allergic reaction

By touch, the Rhus plants do not pose any serious health risks. However, because the plants’ urushiol toxin is not hampered by fire, burning it can actually cause serious illness. Inhaling or being exposed to smoke from burning poison ivy, oak or sumac can result in a serious allergic reaction in the nasal passages, lungs and throat as well as on the skin. If you are exposed to smoke from burning poison ivy, oak or sumac, get to a health care provider immediately.

4. Though the plants die down in winter, they are not dormant

Urushiol remains active for at least five years on surfaces, and especially in dead Rhus plants. Since urushiol is found in the leaves, stems and roots of poison ivy, oak and sumac plants, you can get a rash even in the winter, when a plant has lost all of its leaves. Therefore, learn to identify the poisonous plants in all seasons. In addition, poison ivy vines are sometimes found on firewood, which you should reconsider using since the burning of the urushiol can cause a toxic (and painful) reaction.

5. Contact dermatitis from poison ivy, oak or sumac is not contagious

Contrary to popular belief and media misconception (How many TV shows have you seen where one character gets a poison ivy rash from touching someone else?), you can’t “catch” contact dermatitis from touching other people unless they still have the urushiol on their bodies or clothing. In addition, the rash will only appear where urushiol makes contact on the skin. It does not spread. It may seem to spread, however, as the rash can appear over a period of time rather than all at once.

What Does Poison Ivy Look Like?

Poison ivy, the notorious cause of itchy, blistery rashes, grows throughout the continental United States and much of Canada. (1)

The plant can be found in forests and wetlands, on beaches, and along streams, as well as in urban settings such as parks, yards, and along roads. Poison ivy prefers partial sunlight, so it often grows where the land has been disturbed, such as along the edges of trails, fields, or landscaping.

There are two types of poison ivy — eastern and western — which have somewhat different geographic ranges but which look very similar and sometimes interbreed where their ranges overlap. (2)

Both types of poison ivy spread along the ground, and eastern poison ivy also climbs trees, shrubs, walls, fences, and other structures, clinging to its host with hairy rootlets and sometimes sending out horizontal branches.

Leaves of Three …

Most people know the phrase “Leaves of three, let it be,” but many plants have leaves that grow in clusters of three, so it helps to know a bit more about the physical appearance of poison ivy.

Each poison ivy leaf (or, more accurately, leaflet) has a small leaf stem at its base, attaching it to a stalk or small branch that connects to the main poison ivy vine. The leaflet in the middle of the threesome usually has a longer leaf stem than the two side leaflets.

Poison ivy leaflets are about twice as long as they are wide. They are typically two to five inches long but may reach six or more inches if conditions are right.

Poison ivy leaves may be smooth-edged or may have lobes or teeth. The two sides of the leaf may or may not be symmetrical.

Leaves may be red or green, shiny or dull. The plants may have flower buds, flowers, or berries in dense clusters close to the vine.

… Let It Be

According to the American Skin Association, as many as 50 million Americans have a poison ivy reaction each year. (3)

The cause of poison ivy reactions is urushiol, an oily resin that’s found in the leaves, stems, and roots of the poison ivy plant; most people are allergic to it.

Urushiol sticks to skin, clothing, fur, gardening tools, and other surfaces when it comes into contact with them.

Washing the oil off your skin immediately after contact may prevent a rash from developing. Soap and water is effective, as are commercial poison ivy washes, but the key in either case is to wash the oil off quickly, before the allergic reaction begins.

Following contact — or even potential contact — with poison ivy, you should also wash your clothing and footwear and any gear or equipment that could have touched the poison ivy plant. It’s also important to wash pets who may have gotten urushiol on their fur so they don’t pass it on to you.


Cashew Family (Anacardiaceae)

Other Names:

Rhus radicans, eastern poison-ivy, markweed, mercury, picry, poison creeper, poison vine, three-leaved ivy.

Origin and Distribution:

Poison-ivy is an American native that has a range extending from Canada to South America. It is distributed throughout every county in Ohio. Poison-ivy grows in many habitats including disturbed sites, woodlands, and wetlands. Because birds and animals often disperse the seeds, it is common to find poison-ivy growing in fence rows, on roadsides, at the base of trees, or along the edges of woods. Also, it has been observed in no tillage fields. Although poison-ivy grows in many soil types, it prefers soils with high calcium content.

Plant Description:

This is a deciduous woody perennial distinguished by its leaves that have three leaflets. The stalk attached to the middle leaflet is considerably longer than that attached to either of the two outer leaflets. It grows in a variety of forms including trailing, shrubby, or as a vine. Reproduction is primarily by seeds that are dispersed by birds and animals. Also, it may spread by rhizomes (horizontal underground stems). Stems are capable of forming roots and sending out new shoots when in contact with soil.

  • Root System:

    Poison-ivy produces aerial roots that attach to plants and other things when it grows as a vine. These aerial roots give stems of older plants a hairy appearance.

  • Seedlings and Shoots:

    First to emerge from a seed are 2 leaves (cotyledons) that are narrow and oblong. The characteristic 3-parted leaves appear next.

  • Stems:

    Woody stems have gray bark and grow either horizontally along the soil surface with upright leafy stalks or as a climbing vine.

  • Leaves:

    Leaves are alternate (1 leaf per node) and compound consisting of 3 leaflets. Leaflets are 2 to 4 inches long, glossy, and have a pointed tip. Their shape varies from elliptic to egg-shaped. Their edges also vary from smooth, to toothed or lobed. They appear droopy and reddish green in spring, become level and change to dark green when mature, and turn yellow, orange, or bright red before falling off in the fall.

  • Flowers:

    The small, greenish flowers have 5 petals and form in cluster that are 1 to 3 inches long and often hidden in the leaf axils. Male and female flowers occur on separate plants.

  • Fruits and Seeds:

    The small white berries are round, hard, and about 1/8 inch in diameter. Their surface has ridges that resemble segments of a peeled orange. Each berry contains a single seed.

Similar Species:

Seedlings of boxelder (Acer negundo) have the same alternate, 3-parted leaves that distinguish poison-ivy, but its leaflets are less shiny. Poison oak (Toxicodendron toxicarium) grows more erect than poison-ivy and its leaves have blunt tips with hairs on the upper and lower surfaces. In the U.S., poison oak is usually found growing from New Jersey southward. Leaves of poison-ivy are pointed and smooth on the upper surface, although they may be hairy on the underside. Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) is similar in appearance to poison-ivy but its leaves have 5 leaflets and it climbs by way of tendrils. Also, its fruit is a blue berry. Hog-peanut (Amphicarpa bracteata) has 3-parted leaves similar to poison-ivy, but it is a twining vine lacking woody stems and its purplish, pea-like flowers are larger than those of poison-ivy. Also, its leaflets have 3 strong veins apparent on either side while poison-ivy leaflets have only one centrally located midrib.


Flowers appear from May to July. Seeds usually form after September and may remain on the plant throughout winter. Over 50 species of birds are known to eat poison-ivy seeds. Seeds are often dispersed far from the parent plant by animals and birds. Poison-ivy generally establishes on sites that have been repeatedly disturbed but not recently cultivated. It grows low to the ground and spreading, upright and bushy as a shrub, or vine-like and spreading. Slow vegetative spread by rhizomes can result in formation of large patches. The weed is easy to control by repeatedly cultivating, cutting, or mowing. Its shallow rhizomes are easy to dig up and remove. However, care should be taken to wear heavy protective clothing and repeatedly wash clothing and tools after use. Several herbicides are available that selectively control poison-ivy if applied to growing plants such that all foliage is completely covered.


All parts of poison-ivy release an oil upon bruising that causes severe dermatitis with swelling and blistering. Sensitivity to the toxin varies among individuals, plants, and circumstances under which the person was exposed. If contacted, affected areas should be washed immediately with soap and water as well as any clothing or objects that may have come in contact with the oil. This activity will not decrease the severity of the reaction, but it will lessen the chance of spread. Unless removed by washing, the oil, which is similar to lacquer, can remain on plant parts, skin, clothing, and tools for an indefinite period of time without loosing potency. Fluid contained in blisters is not allergenic. Objects and animals can pick up the oil and transfer it to humans. Smoke of burning poison-ivy plants can cause allergic reactions inside the lungs of susceptible people. If affected, consult a pharmacist for ointment to treat the affected area and a doctor if the case is severe.

Facts and Folklore:

  • ‘Toxicodendron’ is Greek meaning ‘poison tree’.

  • ‘Leaflets three, let it be — berries white, poisonous site.’

  • Each year, reactions to poison-ivy are one of the most often cited causes of workers’ compensation claims.

  • Application of crushed leaves of jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) relieved the effects of recent exposure to poison-ivy in 108 out of 114 people tested.

  • Contrary to a widely-held belief, eating a poison-ivy leaf will not result in immunity to its toxin.

  • Botanists have contracted dermatitis from handling 100-year-old dried plants.

  • Poison-ivy has been cultivated in gardens and sold as an ornamental in Europe and Australia.

  • In the Netherlands, where its attractive fall foliage is prized, it is planted along dikes.

Although spring and summer are prime times for glorious flowers and plants, the Medical Society of the State of New York cautions that spring and summer are also seasons when poison ivy is most dangerous. During spring and summer, poison ivy plants have plenty of sap, and the sap has plenty of urushiol, the chemical that produces the rash, blisters and itch.

Urushiol resides inside the plants, so brushing against the plant should not cause a reaction unless the plant is damaged, which is often the case. When stems or leaves are broken by animals or the wind, urushiol is released. Even avoiding all direct contact with the plants may not protect you. Urushiol can stick to pets and garden tools and other objects in the yard. Therefore, just touching that pet or object can cause a reaction in a susceptible person.

Most people exposed to poison ivy will develop an allergic reaction. Although sensitivity to poison ivy usually occurs only after several encounters with the plants, it may also occur after only one exposure.

Quick cleansing may prevent rash and itching

Poison ivy grows around lakes and streams and appears as a woody, ropelike vine, a trailing shrub on the ground or a free-standing shrub. The small stems arising from a larger stem usually have three groups of leaves but can have up to nine. The leaves are green in the summer and red in the fall. The plants may also have green flowers and white berries.

If you know you have been exposed to poison ivy, cleansing your skin within the first few minutes may remove the urushiol before it has a chance to penetrate. If more than 10 minutes have elapsed, cleansing may not help prevent the outbreak of the rash but can help prevent the urushiol from spreading over the skin.

If possible, stay outdoors while cleansing the skin with generous amounts of isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol. The alcohol removes not only the urushiol but also the skin’s protection, so any new urushiol will be able to penetrate twice as fast. It is therefore best to stay out of the area where contact occurred for the rest of the day. Then, still staying outdoors if possible, wash your skin with water (but not yet soap, which initially could pick up some of the urushiol from the surface and move it over more skin). After these first two cleansing steps, you can go inside and take a regular shower with soap and warm water.

What to do for rash, blisters and itching

If you do not wash the urushiol away quickly enough, or your skin is supersensitive to the urushiol, redness and swelling will usually appear about 12 to 48 hours after exposure. Blisters and itching will follow. For those rare people who react after their very first exposure, the rash appears after seven to 10 days.

The rash will only occur where urushiol has touched the skin. It does not spread throughout the body, although it may appear to do so when the rash develops at different times at different parts of the body. The rash, blisters and itch normally disappear in 14 to 20 days without any treatment.

The itching, however, often causes people to seek some relief. For mild cases, wet compresses or soaking in cool water may be effective. Oral antihistamines can also relieve itching. Try not to scratch blisters because fingernails may carry germs that could cause an infection. The FDA also considers over-the-counter topical corticosteroids (commonly called hydrocortisones under brand names such as Cortaid and Lanacort) safe and effective for temporary relief of itching associated with poison ivy.

For severe cases, topical corticosteroid drugs may be prescribed but are usually only effective if treatment begins within a few hours of exposure to urushiol. The Medical Society of the State of New York and the American Academy of Dermatology advise people who have had severe reactions in the past to contact a dermatologist as soon as possible after a new exposure. Oral corticosteroids may be prescribed if the rash is on the face or genitals or covers more than 30 percent of the body. The drug must be taken for at least 14 days, preferably over a three-week period. Shorter courses of treatment can cause a rebound with an even more severe rash.

Department of Environmental Conservation

Poison Ivy

Gary Kling, University of Illinois, Bugwood.org

Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) is a native plant and one of the most hated, not only because of the itchy rash caused by the slightest contact, but also because it is so difficult to spot. The appearance of the leaves and the growth habit are so variable that even experienced outdoors people can be fooled. Poison ivy is also extremely common, and apt to grow where people are sure to encounter it.


The leaves always have three leaflets. The central end leaflet is largest and has a distinct stem. The two lower leaflets are smaller, often asymmetrical, and attach directly to the leaf stem. Leaves are usually somewhat glossy especially in sun, but not always. Leaves may have smooth margins or a few large teeth (edge looks notched). Young leaves are often reddish.

Poison ivy is a woody vine capable of climbing 75 feet or more, but often grows as a ground cover. It may also look like a shrub, or even a tree, if it has some kind of support.

Poison ivy climbs with black wiry clinging roots along the stem. It does not have tendrils and it does not twine. Old vines may be so covered with roots that look dark and hairy. A mature poison ivy vine on a tree will be a tightly clinging leafless stem as much as 3 inches in diameter growing straight up a tree trunk for several feet before it sends out flowering branches. These side branches are thin, often unbranched and may be up to 6 feet long. They come off the stem almost at right angles, and have a very characteristic appearance.

Poison ivy growing up a tree

The leaves can be alarmingly big, sometimes 12 inches wide (an unnerving sight when encountered at head height along a trail). Clusters of small yellowish flowers are followed by small whitish berries.

Where Poison Ivy is Located

Poison ivy is native to North America, and present statewide in New York. It is extremely common, especially when it grows as a ground cover. Thin woody stems run along the ground and become rooted in. Leaves grow on short slender upright shoots, often mixed in with grass. Poison ivy is especially common along edges of wooded areas, paths, and meadows. It prefers rich soils, good moisture and the partial shade of forest edges, but seems to be able to grow almost anywhere except on very dry hot sites. It will however grow well on hot dry limestone outcrops.

Since it is tolerant to salt spray it is common in beach areas, often growing in low patches on dunes. It is also tolerant of road salt, and is common in ditches and on roadsides. It climbs trees, buildings, fence posts, phone poles and rock outcrops.

Poison ivy is primarily spread by birds who eat the berries.

Why Poison Ivy is Dangerous

All parts of the plant contain a resinous oil called urushiol (you-ROO-she-all), which is a potent allergen. Individuals differ in sensitivity. Usually a person has to be exposed at least once previously to become sensitized and develop an allergic reaction. The typical skin reaction of an intensely itchy rash appears up to 24 hours after exposure. In some people, the rash progresses to severe blistering and may require steroid treatment.

Green poison ivy leaves
Poison ivy vine
Red poison ivy leaves
Poison ivy berries

This purple wildflower acts like poison ivy

PHOENIX — Spring is here, and thanks to a particularly wet winter, the desert landscape at Phoenix Sonoran Desert Preserve has a little extra color.

But one wildflower serves as a reminder that it is best to enjoy the flowers without touching them: the scorpion weed.

It’s an unassuming, pretty little plant with purple flowers. The name comes from the way the stems curl like a scorpion’s tail.

But the stems and seed pods of the flower are covered in numerous hairs, which contain oil that irritate the skin, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The resulting rash is similar to the effects of poison oak or poison ivy.

The rash from the oil usually lasts several days and can stick around for more than a week, and if you give in to the urge to scratch, that will only spread the oil, exacerbating the irritation.

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If you come in contact with scorpion weed, you should immediately rinse your skin with lukewarm, soapy water and wash your clothes, as the oil can stick to clothing too, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.

The oil can also stick to other surfaces, like leashes or a pet’s fur, so be sure to give your pets a warm soapy bath as well if you come across scorpion weed during a walk.

To relieve the itching, the AAD recommends calamine lotion, hydrocortisone cream and applying cool compresses to the rash.

Scorpion weed is found in sandy or gravelly soil and is common around dry washes and slopes along roads. At the Phoenix Sonoran Preserve, there’s plenty of it along the hiking trails.

The plant has a strong, onion-like smell, according to the National Park Service, yet another warning from the scorpion weed to stay away.

Recognizing Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac (and How to Treat if you Don’t)

Recognizing poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac is essential if you want to avoid the unpleasant burning and itchy rash that accompany these common plants. Luckily, they aren’t hard to identify.

Recognizing Poison Ivy

Poison ivy can grow as both a vine and a shrub. Its leaves are pointed at the tip and grow in groups of three. In spring, the leaves are green, while in fall they turn reddish-orange. The plant also has small clusters of white berries, which it drops to reseed itself and grow larger. These berries can be seen starting in spring all the way through to the end of winter.

The problem with poison ivy is that it’s very adaptable and grows in various ways, making it difficult to identify. That’s why you should look for leaves that grow in clusters of three, which is the most defining characteristic of this plant.

Though most people think of it as a vine that grows upwards, clinging to a variety of surfaces, mainly because it does have “ivy” in the name, the fact is that poison ivy can also grow as a bush or even a single plant.

So, when attempting to identify poison ivy, make sure to look for three leaves with pointy tips that are loosely connected on each stem. The middle leaf tends to have a small stem, while the two side leaves grow off the vine. When looking from above, the leaves are a dark, waxy green, while from below they appear a light, fuzzy green. The waxiness makes the leaves appear shiny, but this isn’t always an indicator as they can seem dull after rain.

Most importantly, don’t touch poison ivy when trying to identify it. If in doubt, it’s best to steer clear because getting just a little of the plant’s oil on you can cause a very unpleasant rash.

Treating Poison Ivy

Ideally, you were successful in recognizing poison ivy and managed to avoid it, but this is not always possible. So, if you did come in contact with poison ivy, your best option is to use a cold compress on the affected area. Calamine lotion, hydrocortisone cream or antihistamines can also be used to stop the itching.

If the rash is on your face, close to your eyes, or covers a significant area of your body, visit one of our Urgent Care centers in the Greater Augusta County area. Some individuals will have a more severe allergic reaction, in which case you may need emergency care immediately.

Recognizing Poison Oak

Like poison ivy, poison oak can grow as a shrub or a climbing vine, and its leaves also grow in groups of three off the stem. Unlike poison ivy, though, the edges of the leaves have a wavy appearance and, as the name indicates, they look somewhat like oak leaves.

The tops of the leaves are usually glossy green, but they can be yellow, red or brown depending on the season and how healthy the plant is. The underside of the leaves appear more velvety and feature a lighter green color.

The stems have a slightly greyish tinge to them, and can have what looks like hair or tiny thorns. In spring, poison oak has small green-yellow flowers, while during summer and fall the plant will have small light-green berries.

Treating Poison Oak

To relieve the itching, apply calamine lotion to the affected areas. Topical steroids or systemic steroids and antihistamines might also help. You can also take an oatmeal bath, which has been known to significantly relieve itching.

Simply put two cups of oatmeal in a stocking and tie it to the tap, positioning it so the water runs through the oatmeal. Soak in the bath for a minimum of thirty minutes. An alternative to oatmeal is baking soda.

Recognizing Poison Sumac

Recognizing poison sumac is essential to avoiding a really painful allergic reaction that manifests as a red, itchy rash or blisters. Poison sumac grows as a shrub or a tree that can be as tall as 30 feet or even taller in some cases.

The tree tends to seem pretty barren because the leaves grow in a relatively open pattern and not as dense foliage.

A large tree will generally have long and thin branches that sag downwards. The hanging branches increase your chances of brushing against it walking by.

However, before poison sumac becomes a tree, it grows as a small plant with leaves that point up. They have small branches with red stems and double rows of between six and twelve leaves on each stem, with an extra leaf at the tip of the stem.

The leaves are oval or oblong and taper to a point at the end. The sides of the leaves might be wavy or smooth but aren’t jagged. The leaves change color with the seasons, like poison oak and poison ivy. During spring and summer, poison sumac may have pale green or yellow flowers which grow in clusters along separate green stems. In the summer, the plant might replace its flowers with small yellow or green berries, which turn white or grey during fall and winter.

Please note that even fallen leaves can still be poisonous. And never use poison sumac for a fire, because inhaling the smoke can be extremely dangerous.

Treating Poison Sumac

Treating poison sumac is just like treating poison ivy or poison oak. All you can really do is alleviate the itching by using calamine lotion and applying cold compresses to the area. Antihistamines can also help reduce inflammation.

In all cases, you should wash anything that came into contact with the plant to ensure you remove the toxic oil that transferred from the plant. This includes your skin and any gear or clothing as you don’t want to be re-exposed.

If you have a severe reaction, you should call a doctor right away.

At Augusta Health, we provide the option of Urgent Care for immediate but serious medical need. If you come into contact with any of these poison plants, Augusta Health is here to provide the care you need!

“Leaves of three – let it be!” aptly describes this woody vine with 2-4″ leaflets in groups of three. The center leaf has a longer stem than the other two. Poison ivy clings to tree trunks and other vertical surfaces with hair-like aerial rootlets that grow out of the stem. If a climbing surface isn’t available, poison ivy will grow as a free standing shrub. The leaves of poison ivy turn shades of red and purple in fall.

Poison ivy is caused by an allergic reaction (allergic contact dermatitis) to the oily coating that covers of these plants. The resinous coating is called “urushiol”. These are called Rhus plants after the old scientific name (it was changed to toxidendron). A person doesn’t have to come in direct contact with the leaves, roots, or branches of Rhus plants to get the rash. One can get it from contaminated clothing. Even in winter the leafless stems and vines can cause the familiar skin rash.

No one is born with sensitivity to Poison ivy, but if exposed enough most people become sensitized at some time and remain allergic. A sensitivity can change at any time. There’s no way to desensitize people allergic to Rhus plants. Dogs and other animals are not affected by poison ivy, but people can get the rash by petting a dog that’s been exposed.

The rash itself is not contagious, and the fluid in the blisters does not spread the rash. Poison ivy dermatitis appears as soon as four hours or as long as 10 days after the exposure, depending on individual sensitivity and the amount exposure. As the rash appears, any sensitivity a person had begins to increase. One starts to react to the slightest traces of a few molecules on the skin. This causes the rash to appear to be spreading, even after treatment has begun.

Poison ivy dermatitis rashes are self-limited; sooner or later they clear up without treatment. Letting nature take its course with mild poison ivy dermatitis is reasonable, but severe rashes need treatment to ease the misery and disability they cause. The very first time this rash is gotten, it lasts longer than a repeat attack, often 3 or 4 weeks.

Cortisone type preparations taken by mouth are dramatically effective in treating Poison ivy dermatitis rash. It’s safe to take these drugs for a short period (2-3 weeks). If a person has a peptic ulcer, high blood pressure, or diabetes, cortisone should be taken only under close medical supervision. Improvement of the rash should be prompt and steady. It depends on getting enough cortisone.

Blisters and itching will improve with moist compresses. Make a batch of “Burows solution” by putting 1 or 2 “Dome-Boro” tablets in a pint of water (available from a pharmacist). Apply this to the blistering areas for 20 minutes two or three times daily. Follow the compresses with the prescribed cream if any. Very hot water stops the itch, but is not good for the skin or the rash.

When the swelling has gone down, stop the compresses and apply only the cream. Cream applied before the blisters and swelling go down are not effective alone. One may bathe or shower as usual, but avoid hot water.

Poison Ivy can be partially prevented by application of “Ivy Block” lotion before going in the woods, and washing off an exposed area with “Technu” liquid as soon as exposure is detected. In the woods, rub the Jewelweed plant on exposed skin. The tannins in this plant may bind the resin and prevent the rash. This does no harm, but is only effective within 15 minutes of exposure. Clothing, pets, and tools need to be washed or one may become re-exposed to the resin.

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The medical information provided in this site is for educational purposes only and is the property of the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice and shall not create a physician – patient relationship. If you have a specific question or concern about a skin lesion or disease, please consult a dermatologist. Any use, re-creation, dissemination, forwarding or copying of this information is strictly prohibited unless expressed written permission is given by the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology.

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