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 contained in these poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac plants (urishol), 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, consult 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 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 (such as diphenhydramine). You can buy these at the drugstore. Talk to your health care provider 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.

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 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 health care provider

Call your health care provider 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 medicine to take by mouth or apply directly on the skin. Go to the emergency room if you have any trouble breathing or swallowing or have any significant swelling.