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

Man rinsing his leg with hose water

If you come in contact with urushiol

If you think you may have come in contact with urushiol, the sap oil contained in these poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac plants, wash the affected part of your skin. Do this within 15 minutes after contact, using water or preferably, soap and 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 are not sure if it is from one of these plants, consul with your health care provider.

To soothe the itching

Your skin may react to poison oak, poison ivy, and poison sumac within minutes to a few days after contact. Once you have come into contact with these plants, you can’t stop the reaction. But you can take these steps to soothe the itching:

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

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

  • Use antihistamines that are taken by mouth (such as diphenhydramine or Benedryl). You can buy these at the drugstore. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist for more information on oral antihistamines.

  • Use over-the-counter treatments on your skin, such as cortisone,  compresses of Burow’s solution, and calamine lotion.

Urishiol related rash

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. And your rash may blister and ooze. If this happens, seek medical treatment. The fluid from your blisters will not make your rash spread. With or without medical treatment, your rash may last up to 3 weeks. In the future, try to avoid coming in contact with these plants.

Woman on phone reporting rash to her health care provider

Call your doctor 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.

You may be given medications to take by mouth or apply directly on the skin. Go to the emergency room if you have any trouble breathing or sweallowing or any significant swelling.


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