Managing a Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, or Poison Sumac Reaction

If you come in contact with urushiol

Closeup of man washing hands in sink.

If you think you may have come in contact with the sap oil (urushiol) contained in poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac plants, it's important to wash the affected part of your skin as soon as possible to remove the sap oil or help prevent further spread. Wash the affected areas with soap and cool water. Undress, and wash your clothes and gear as soon as you can. Be sure to wash any pet that was with you. Taking these steps can help prevent spreading sap oil to someone else. If you have a rash, but aren't sure if it's from one of these plants, see your healthcare provider.

To soothe the itching

Your skin may react to poison oak, poison ivy, and poison sumac within hours to a few days after contact. Listed below are some common home care treatments. If these aren't effective in relieving symptoms call your healthcare provider for additional treatments which may include prescription medicines.

  • Don’t scratch or scrub your rash. Not even if the itching is severe. Scratching can lead to infection.

  • Bathe in lukewarm (not hot) water. Or take short cool showers to relieve the itching. For a more soothing bath, add oatmeal to the water.

  • Use antihistamines that are taken by mouth. These include diphenhydramine. You can buy these at the grocery store or pharmacy. Talk to your healthcare provider or pharmacist for more information on oral antihistamines.

  • Use over-the-counter treatments on your skin. These include cortisone creams and calamine lotion.

How your skin may react

A mild rash may become red, swollen, and itchy. The rash may form a line on your skin where you brushed against the plant. If you have a severe rash, your itching may worsen or your rash may blister and ooze. If this happens, seek medical care. The fluid from your blisters will not make your rash spread. With or without medical care, your rash may last up to 3 weeks. In the future, try to avoid coming in contact with these plants.

When to call your healthcare provider

Call your healthcare provider or seek immediate medical attention if:

  • Your rash is severe

  • The rash spreads beyond the exposed part of your body or affects your face.

  • The rash does not clear up within a few weeks

Call 911

Call 911 if you have any of the following:

  • Trouble breathing or swallowing

  • Any significant swelling

Online Medical Reviewer: Michael Lehrer MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Rita Sather RN
Date Last Reviewed: 8/1/2019
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