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!

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Got poison? First things first

If you come into contact with poison ivy, oak or sumac, wash your skin as soon as possible with cold, running water. And hurry! Do this within minutes of coming into contact with the plant to prevent the oil from absorbing into the skin. (The faster you remove the plant oils, the less severe your reaction will be.) Avoid vigorously scrubbing the area or using hot water right after exposure, since these may further open pores or cause more irritation to the skin.


What about soap? Advice from the experts is mixed. Some say don't use soap, others recommend it -- and some say wash with cold water only as soon as possible, then use soap in a warm shower as thereafter.


Poison oak - poison ivy - poison sumacAlso remember to wash the clothing and shoes you were wearing when you came into contact with the poison ivy immediately after discovering (or suspecting) a breakout, so you don't spread the rash all over your body.


*An overview:
1. Wash yourself immediately with COLD water
2. As soon as possible after you can fully undress, take a shower with WARM WATER.
3. Wash your clothing and other items with HOT water (you might want to run it through twice or at least add an extra rinse).

Comfort measures

"People with poison ivy tend to find relief from cool baths or cool compresses," say Hammer, who also recommends rubbing the affected area with an ice cube for relief. Be sure to let the area air dry after massaging it with ice -- this can help reduce itching and blister oozing.


The ever-popular calamine lotion is also a treatment option, and several common household and over-the-counter products may help dry up the oozing blisters and/or help relieve itching:

  • oatmeal or cornstarch baths
  • baking soda and cold, brewed coffee
  • baking soda and white vinegar
  • calamine lotion
  • zinc acetate/zinc carbonate/zinc oxide
  • oral antihistamines

For mild rashes, wet compresses or soaking in cool water may be soothing. And as counter-intuitive as it may seem, extra-hot showers (with the water on hard) can actually feel great because it seems to relieve that deep itch.


Don't scratch the blisters, as terribly ichy as they may feel. Scratching the blisters open can ultimately cause more pain -- and since your fingernails/fingers might carry germs, you could get an infection -- bad enough on its own, but which can also lead to scarring.

When to get help

Most cases of poison ivy can be handled at home. In rare cases, however, poison ivy can be extremely serious -- or even deadly. "Occasionally, poison ivy can become a more severe situation in someone who's highly sensitized to the reaction, or if someone is exposed to a large amount of the oil," Hammer says.


More specifically, "If [you] are experiencing a more severe poison ivy reaction, specifically involving the face or the genital area, or there's significant swelling pain or irritation that disrupts sleep or daily activities." Your doctor may prescribe steroids to help reduce the itching, and discomfort/pain. (Have you had a bad cause of poison oak/ivy before? The American Academy of Dermatology recommends anyone who has had a severe reaction in the past contact a dermatologist as soon as possible after a new exposure.)

*POISON IVY MYTH: Have you heard that you can "catch" poison oak/ivy from someone who's infected? Not true! The rash will only spread to another person if you have oil on your hand and touch him or her, says Hammer. Once the oil has been removed from your skin, it is no longer possible to spread the rash to other areas of your body. The fluid that seeps from the sores/blisters brought on by poison ivy are not contagious. Assuming the urushiol has been completely washed off, cannot catch or spread poison ivy/oak after it appears, because the oil from the plant has already been absorbed and/or washed off the skin.

NEXT PAGE: Recognizing the plants and avoiding a reaction

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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!

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