Poison sumac, poison ivy, and poison oak all contain an oil called urushiol. If this oil penetrates the skin, most develop an itchy rash due to an allergic reaction. The rash appears over time and usually not immediately after coming in contact with the oil. In fact, the skin reaction may not appear for 12-21 days after the first time you’ve come in contact with these plants. If you have had an allergic skin reaction in the past, the rash will likely appear 12-72 hours after coming into contact with the plants.
Signs and Symptoms
If you have an allergic reaction to these plants, you will likely have:
- Intensely itchy skin
- A rash: red, swollen lines, streaks or patches, usually with blisters
- Small bumps
- Large blisters that crust over after bursting
If you’ll be spending time in nature, take time to familiarize yourself with the appearance of each plant before heading out.
Most poison ivy-affected skin can be treated at home. Dermatologists recommend that you do the following:
- Douse your skin with generous amounts of lukewarm water as soon as you can, inactivating and removing the oil. This is most effective when done within 15 minutes of exposure to the oil.
- If you shower, make sure that you rinse your skin thoroughly with lukewarm water before using soap. Urushiol can stick to the soap. If this happens, the soap can spread oil all over your skin.
- Wash the clothes that you were wearing. Urushiol can stick to clothing and cause another outbreak when you touch the unwashed clothing. Washing removes the urushiol.
While your skin is healing, it will often be very itchy. The following can relieve itching:
- Take short, lukewarm baths in colloidal oatmeal preparation, available at your local drugstore
- Apply calamine lotion to skin that itches
- Apply cool compresses to itchy skin
- Take an oral antihistamine, but do not apply to skin. Applying an antimistamine to your skin can worsen the itch and rash.
- Hydrocortisone cream or lotion can relieve mild cases of poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac
In some cases, you may need to seek medical care for poison ivy treatment. This may be true if the rash is not dissipating on its own, the majority of your body is covered, you are having trouble breathing, or are experiencing severe swelling or if nothing is alleviating the discomfort and itchiness.
How a Professional Dermatologist Can Help
A poison ivy rash, while usually not dangerous, can be extremely uncomfortable. A dermatologist can provide you with treatment tips, creams, and medications to help reduce itchiness and pain. Use the buttons below to find a clinician or location near you that treats poison ivy.