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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Avoiding the reaction

It may sound simple, but the best way to prevent getting a poison ivy, oak or sumac rash is basically simple prevention: avoid contact with the plants -- or even ones you think might be the poisonous ones. Learn about these types of plants and how they may look different depending on season, growing conditions, etc.


More prevention tips:

  • Wear full-length pants, long sleeve shirts, socks and fully-closed shoes or boots (no sandals) when there's no sure way to avoid these plants.
  • Thoroughly wash all of your clothes and completely rinse off your shoes after any exposure. The urushiol can hang around and be problematic if it gets on your pet's fur or even on other items around the yard, including kids' toys and gardening tools. "Oil can stay on these types of surfaces for up to five years," says Hammer, who recommends thoroughly washing both pets and other items that may have come into contact with poison plants.
  • Poison oak - poison ivy - poison sumacIf you think you may possibly have come into contact with poison oak, ivy or sumac, avoid touching the outside of your clothing and keep your hands away from your body. Even brushing the back of your hand across your forehead can lead to an eye painfully swollen shut.
  • Physically remove the plants when possible, using plastic gloves over cotton gloves (and keep some spare gloves handy).
  • Apply barrier creams or lotions, like Gardener's Armor, which can help prevent the oil from contacting the skin or causing a reaction.
  • Tecnu and Zanfel can help remove the plaint oil from your skin after exposure. (These products are available at the links above, or at pharmacies and outdoor equipment stores.)
  • Never burn poison oak, ivy or sumac -- this can lead to the smoke carrying the urushiol into the air, where you can breathe it in, causing a painful reaction in your throat and lungs.

How to recognize (and avoid) these nasty plants

Poison oak's leaves grow as a vine or shrub and look like oak leaves with three leaflets -- but to confuse matters, they can contain up to seven leaflets per group. This plant is most common in the western United States, but does occasionally pop up on the East Coast as well as the Midwest.


Poison sumac grows like a shrub or small tree and has seven to thirteen leaflets per leaf stem. Its leaves have smooth edges and pointed tips, and the plants are found in swampy areas in the Southeast along with wet, wooded areas in the northern part of the states.


Poison ivy is found throughout the United States except along the west coast. It grows as a climbing or low-spreading vine that sprawls through grass in the eastern US, though in the northern part of the country (as well as Canada and the Great Lakes region) it grows more like a shrub. This plant usually has three broad, pointed leaves or leaflets -- but, like poison oak, it can have more.


Poison ivy changes color with the seasons: red in the springtime, green during the summer, and typical autumnal browns and yellows during the fall.

The rule of three

If you, friends or family are just itching to go hiking or camping, at least be sure that everyone knows how to recognize and avoid poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac. As the saying goes: "Leaves of three, let it be."


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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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