Watch Out For
Poison Oak & Ivy

The summer is a time for camping, hiking, gardening, and enjoying the outdoors. Unfortunately, this can also become a popular time for poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac outbreaks. Upon your skin touching these plants' oils, a red itchy rash can show up in the form of lines and streaks, or blisters and hives. In order to help prevent breaking out in an annoying rash, keep the following information in mind and enjoy the outdoors!

Poison oak/ivy rash

Poison ivy, oak and sumac are the leading culprits behind of allergic skin reactions in the United States -- with an estimated 55 million occurrences each year. If you're in the 70 percent or so of the population who is sensitive to this oil -- a colorless, odorless resin called urushiol -- you may know well the end result: an itchy rash with oozing blisters.

Detecting the symptoms

The rash from poison ivy/poison oak (Rhus dermatitis) can develop anywhere from 30 minutes to five days after the exposure, and can last anywhere from 10 days to three weeks. The timing and severity of the outbreak depends on how sensitive you are, how much contact was made with the poison plant, where exactly on your skin you were exposed, and if you've had a reaction before. (It may take more than a week to show up the first time you come in contact with the plant's oil, but it tends to develop more quickly with each outbreak.)


"The allergic reaction from poison ivy is caused by oil in the plant," says Lisa Hammer, MD, a pediatrician at the University of Michigan CS Mott Children's Hospital. "The reaction usually starts with redness and swelling of the skin, which is then followed by either bumps or blisters."


The initial symptoms of poison oak/poison ivy include:

  • Itchy skin, red streaks or overall redness where the plant brushed against your skin.
  • A rash, small bumps or bigger hives (larger raised areas).
  • Blisters filled with fluid which may seep/leak.

More serious symptoms include:

  • Swelling of the face, mouth, neck, genitals or eyelids (which may prevent the eyes from opening).
  • Widespread, large blisters that ooze large amounts of fluid.

Keep in mind that the rash can develop in new areas over several days (though this nearly always does not mean that the oils have spread -- just that the urushiol is taking its time).

NEXT PAGES: What to do if you get a poison ivy/oak rash & how to recognize the plants

Continue »

Recommended for you


Comments on "How to treat and avoid poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac"

Jen September 08, 2013 | 12:44 PM

The picture of poison oak is actually a red oak tree. Poison oak is a vine that can grow on trees but that is definitely a picture of a tree branch with fall leaves.

Jessie Lauver June 24, 2013 | 2:45 PM

When I come in from working around poison."Dawn dish detergent, works the best" 1. strip and wash all clothes with Dawn since it is the oil( which can stay on the clothes for a long time) that you get the rash from. 2. Then shower in cold water and use Dawn as soap it removes the oil. no Hot water it just spreads the poison's oil!

barbara May 11, 2013 | 4:57 PM

I am really allergic to poison oak I found a wash called tecnu it is amazing when you have got in poison oak rub tecnu on rinse it off and you wont get a reaction

Bright-Sky July 20, 2012 | 6:34 PM

the rashes/blisters from these plants can last MUCH longer than the article states. if it is on a sensitive area like an armpit that constantly rubs other skin around it, or a person doesnt stop scratching, it can last all winter. also dont listen to the "experts" who claim that it cant spread person-to-person by touching the rash. in most cases it doesnt, but if the blisters are open and the juice gets on another part of the body, or another person, it WILL spread. i know that for a fact because when we were kids we used to give it to each other on purpose like that. i have had it almost every summer of my life to some degree, even though i can identify these plants. i just go in the woods alot and always will. one last thing, if you rinse of real good within a half hour after touching the plant, you have less chance of getting it. you can also get it at least a year later from unwashed boots/shoes/jackets etc that have the oil on them.

Carol July 09, 2012 | 1:07 PM

I got poison sumac this year for the first time. It was so bad I had to go to the doctor twice in 3 days. I had a shot of steroids and oral steroids, a creme for the rash from the doctor, and pills for the itching and to sleep. The only relieve I got was using a warm hairdryer on the rash. It was amazing!!!! My son told me about it. He uses the hairdryer when he gets poison ivy. I would use it as hot as I could stand it. It feels like you are scratching the rash without touching it and I think it may help in drying it up. Be careful not to burn yourself! BEST THING EVER!

lori June 15, 2012 | 4:14 AM

i have found that salt water baths help sooth and get rid of posion ivy the best.......i have also decieded to cover my ivy patch to smother it cause that crap keeps coming back

Melinda June 14, 2012 | 4:24 AM

I am very allergic and have it everywhere on the property. I always wash with tecnu extreme after exposure and it works very well. The worst rashes I get are when I unknowingly come in contact(the dogs cats ) Make sure to treat all clothes, SHOES, and tools!! I love working outside and still manage to get a rash every summer, Good luck, wear gloves, long sleeves and long pants

uaannie1 June 02, 2012 | 4:00 AM

The product IVY DRY is really the only relief I have found.It comes in 2 forms a spray(not as good) and the creme (The best). Once you find this product and use it,you will never stray from it.For the record I don't work for the company and I make no money from the sale of this product.

NLegere May 02, 2012 | 5:20 PM

Look for products (such as Burt's Bees Poison Ivy Soap) which contain Jewelweed. Ironically enough, Jewelweed grows near poison ivy, and is an old-time remedy for the rash. You can also make a poultice of it. I'm highly allergic to poison ivy and have had numerous run-ins with it over the years, so I've had a lot of experience with the products out there.

James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H. April 30, 2012 | 7:30 AM

Great article. Covers all the bases. I would re-emphasize recognizing it and avoiding it as well as washing off the oil asap. After it starts forming the rash, it can last for weeks and, sometimes, very hard to get under control no matter what you use.

nanci April 22, 2012 | 7:53 AM

I recently cleaned up poison sumac off of my fence area and was exposed to so much of it that i have had it for 3 weeks now and it is still coming out in rashes and hives on my body...I am on my second round of cortisone treatments and creams...none of which are just have to make its way out of my body because of being exposed to so much of it. My initial break out was all over my arms now it is all over my stomach and breasts and hives on my back. The dr. thinks that it will be up to a month for it to exit my body because of the huge exposure that i time i will hire a landscaper to get rid of it properly....

Betsy June 10, 2009 | 4:32 PM

I am not affiliated with the company, but am a VERY satisfied customer: http://zanfel. As someone who is VERY allergic to poison ivy and have treated it many times with this product (for myself and my children), all I can tell you is it works, it works, it works - pretty much on contact!

+ Add Comment

(required - not published)