Poison Ivy, Poison Oak & Poison Sumac

Know The Symptoms Of A Poisonous Plant Reaction

Patients who come into contact with poisonous plants, including poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac, most likely will experience an allergic reaction as a result of touching the plants themselves or objects contaminated with the oil from these plants. If you think you’re having a reaction to one of these plants, our dermatologists can help you determine the best treatment. The team at Advanced Dermatology and Skin Cancer Center treats many different skin conditions, including rashes from poisonous plants.

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What Is Poison Ivy?

Poison ivy is a common poisonous plant that causes itchy, uncomfortable skin rashes. Along with poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac are toxic plants that can cause rashes. These plants produce an oily sap called urushiol that causes an allergic reaction in the skin when touched called contact dermatitis — a red, itchy rash caused by direct contact with a substance or an allergic reaction to it.

How Common Is A Poison Ivy Rash?

A poison ivy rash is common — approximately 90 percent of patients who come into contact with poison ivy, poison sumac, or poison oak develop an allergic reaction. What’s more, you don’t have to be exposed to a significant amount of urushiol to develop a rash — it takes an amount smaller than a grain of salt to cause a reaction. Patients can develop a rash from direct contact with the plant’s leaves, touching urushiol then other parts of the body, inhaling smoke from burning a poisonous plant, and coming into contact with urushiol left on an object.

Who Might Get A Rash?

Nearly every patient who touches poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac leaves gets a rash. The following groups are more likely to come in contact with these plants than others due to being outside often, but anyone can come into contact with them and, subsequently, develop a rash. 

  • Hikers
  • Campers
  • Gardeners
  • Farmers
  • Landscapers
  • Groundskeepers
  • Forestry Workers
  • Forest Firefighters
  • Roofers
  • House Painters

Poison Ivy Rash Symptoms 

Being exposed to a poisonous plant, no matter which type, will cause similar symptoms. Depending on the degree of skin sensitivity, a patient may develop a rash within a few hours to a few days after initial contact with poison ivy, poison sumac, or poison oak leaves. These symptoms can also occur after a patient comes into contact with an object that has been exposed to these plants. A rash from a poisonous plant, however, is not contagious — you can’t get a poison ivy rash by touching another patient’s rash. Poison ivy, poison sumac, and poison oak symptoms include the following.

  • Red & Itchy Skin
  • Skin Rash 
  • Oozing Blisters
  • Red Bumps (Papules)
  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Irritation

Poison Ivy, Oak & Sumac Rash Treatment

There is no cure for a rash from poisonous plants once the rash starts. Avoiding these plants is the best type of poison ivy treatment — it’s important to learn what the plants look like and to exercise caution if you are ever around them. Rashes from poison ivy, oak, and sumac typically resolve within 1–2 weeks of development. During this period, over-the-counter creams — such as calamine lotion or a colloidal oatmeal bath — and prescriptions might be recommended. Prescription drugs (such as prednisone) may be required to help calm severe reactions and in cases when the irritation includes mucus membranes (membranes found in the eyes, nose, mouth, and genitals). To learn more about poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac rash treatment options, contact Advanced Dermatology and Skin Cancer Center.

How To Prevent A Poison Plant Rash

The best way to avoid a rash is to learn what poisonous plants look like so you can avoid coming into contact with them. If you believe you have come into contact with poison ivy, poison sumac, or poison oak, follow these tips.

  • Apply rubbing alcohol to exposed body parts and contaminated items
  • Scrub your hands and under your fingernails to strip away the oil
  • Use dish soap and lukewarm water to wash hands
  • Wash all clothing after spending time outdoors
  • Wear protective clothing and gloves while outdoors
  • Wear rubber gloves when cleaning items exposed to poisonous plants

What Do Poisonous Plants Look Like?

Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac are three of the most common types of poisonous plants found throughout the continental United States. Each type has a distinctive appearance. If you come into contact with these plants, contact our dermatologists right away for treatment.

Poison Ivy 

The poison ivy plant is found throughout the country, but it appears differently in each part of the U.S. In the East, Midwest, and South, poison ivy grows as a vine, while in the northern and western parts of the country, it grows as a shrub. Each poison ivy leaf has three leaflets. A wise rule to remember when identifying poison ivy is, “leaves of three, let them be.” The plant has bright-green leaves that turn red in the spring and yellow, orange, or red in the fall.

Poison Oak

The poison oak plant looks similar to poison ivy — both have leaves with three leaflets — but poison oak has rounded tips. Poison oak leaves have an underside that is fuzzy and much lighter in color than the top portion of the leaf. Poison oak grows as a shrub, and it is more commonly found in the western United States than in any other region. The shrub can have either white or yellow berries.

Poison Sumac

The poison sumac plant grows as a woody shrub with each stem containing pairs of 7–13 leaves. Poison sumac can be distinguished from non-poisonous sumac varieties by the appearance of its berries. Poison sumac has drooping clusters of green berries. Harmless sumac has red berry clusters that grow in an upright direction. Additionally, poison sumac is more common in wet, swampy areas, such as the southeastern part of the U.S.

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