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Avoiding Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, and Poison Sumac

Poison oak, poison ivy, and poison sumac are plants that can cause skin rashes. The problem is urushiol, a sap oil contained in these plants. If you’re allergic to urushiol, touching one of these plants may cause your skin to react. Within minutes or days, you may have a red, swollen, itchy rash. You can’t stop the rash. But you can soothe the itching.




Recognizing These Plants

You can help prevent a poison oak, poison ivy, or poison sumac rash. Know what these plants look like. And then avoid them. They grow in the form of vines, small plants, and large bushes. In most cases, poison oak and poison ivy have three leaves per stem. Poison sumac has from 7 to 13 leaves per stem. Watch out for these plants when you go to any outdoor area, from a friend’s overgrown back yard to the wilderness. Urushiol is present in these plants all year round. So always be on the lookout.

What Causes a Reaction?

Poison oak, poison ivy, and poison sumac thrive mainly in unmaintained outdoor areas. If you touch these plants, you may get a rash. You may also react if you touch something that came in contact with urushiol, such as a dog or cat, clothing, or equipment. But the rash caused by these plants is not contagious.

Steps to Prevention

When heading outdoors, take these preventive steps:

  • Avoid touching any of these plants.

  • Wear long pants and a long-sleeved shirt.

  • If you’re going to a heavily wooded or brushy area, also put on gloves, a hat, and boots.

  • Apply bentoquatam 5% to all exposed areas of skin. This creates a layer of protection between your skin and any sap oil you may touch.

  • If you can, carry water with you to rinse off any sap oil you contact.


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