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Poison Ivy, Oak and Sumac

As the weather gets warmer, and children spend more time outdoors, they are more likely to come into contact with poisonous plants.  Poison Ivy, Oak and Sumac can cause a red, itchy and blistering rash in up to 70-85% of people who are exposed.  Urushiol is the oil found in the sap of these plants that causes the allergic reaction.  It is easily transferred from the plant to skin, clothing, shoes and pets.   A rash can occur within hours of exposure, but can take up to a week to develop.

What Does It Look Like?

Poison Ivy
Poison Ivy


Poison Oak
Poison Oak


Poison Sumac
Poison Sumac



  • Extreme itchiness
  • Redness and blisters in streaks or patches
  • Often starts on hands, lower legs or other exposed areas
  • Can last up to two weeks


  • Wash affected areas with soap and water to remove any residual oil (including clothing and pets)
  • Cool oatmeal baths can be soothing (such as Aveeno)
  • Topical calamine lotion may be applied
  • Oral Antihistamines can help relieve itching (Benadryl, Zyrtec, Claritin)
  • Cool compresses to the affected areas for up to 20 minutes at a time
  • Trim and wash under the fingernails to prevent spreading the oil
  • Although the fluid in the blisters that may form is not contagious, avoid breaking them to help prevent infection
  • In severe cases, oral steroids may be needed


  • A fever develops
  • There is severe discomfort or any breathing difficulties
  • The area involved include the face, lips, eyes or genitalia
  • Any signs of infection including pus or yellow scabbing

Teaching your children to recognize and avoid these plants can reduce their risk of an unpleasant experience.  Have fun in the outdoors but remember the rhyme “Leaves of three, let them be!”

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