Poison Ivy, Oak and Sumac — Oh My!

Everything you need to know about poison ivy, oak and sumac

(RxWiki News) If you are spending time outdoors this summer, you may come into contact with poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac. Here's what you need to know.

Many people can develop an itchy, painful rash from poison ivy, oak, and sumac. The rash is caused by an oil found in the plants.

Fortunately, you can take steps to protect yourself and your family.


To prevent a rash from poison ivy, oak or sumac, it is important to avoid these plants if at all possible. Knowing what to look out for may make all the difference:

  • Poison ivy grows as a shrub or vine, depending on the region, and each leaf has three small leaflets. In spring, it grows yellow-green flowers and may have green berries that turn off-white in early fall.
  • Poison oak grows as a vine or shrub, and each leaf has three small leaflets. Poison oak may have yellow-white berries.
  • Poison sumac grows as a tall shrub or small tree. Each leaf has a row of paired leaflets and another leaflet at the end. The leaves may have spots that look like blotches of black paint, and the plant may have yellow-white berries.

Here's how to protect yourself:

  • Wear long-sleeve shirts, pants, boots and gloves.
  • Apply bentoquatam-containing products to prevent the skin from absorbing the oils that cause the rash.
  • Use heavy plastic bags to pull poison ivy from the soil.
  • Use white vinegar to kill what is left of poison ivy.

What to Do if You're Exposed

If you touch poison ivy, oak or sumac, immediately rinse your skin with lukewarm, soapy water. This includes contact with any part of the plant — not just the leaves. Also thoroughly wash all clothes that came into contact with the plants.

An itchy, blistering rash may begin 12 to 72 hours after coming into contact with the oil. As hard as it may be, avoid scratching your skin to prevent an infection. Apply a cool compress to itchy skin. Additionally, you can take short, lukewarm baths in a colloidal oatmeal preparation, such as Aveeno.

You might also try a medicated scrub developed specifically to remove poison ivy or sumac oil from the skin (such as Tecnu).


Various over-the-counter treatments can help after you've been exposed to poison ivy, oak or sumac:

  • Calamine lotion can help relieve the itching. For a mild case of poison ivy, oak or sumac, you can use hydrocortisone cream.
  • Antihistamine pills like Benadryl (diphenhydramine) can reduce itching. Benadryl can cause drowsiness, so do not drive or operate heavy machinery until you know how this medication affects you. Do not apply antihistamines to the skin — they can make the rash worse.

If your symptoms do not improve within seven to 10 days or you develop an infection, see a doctor. If you have a serious reaction, your doctor may prescribe a steroid ointment to apply to your skin.

If you have any of the following symptoms, go to the emergency room right away:

  • If you have a known severe allergy to poison ivy, oak or sumac
  • Trouble breathing or swallowing (including swelling of the tongue or throat)
  • A rash over most of your body
  • Multiple rashes or blisters
  • Swelling, especially if your eyelids swell shut
  • A rash on your face or genitals
  • Itching on the majority of your skin
  • Itching that cannot be relieved

Ask your pharmacist or doctor any questions you have about poison ivy, oak or sumac.