Poison Ivy Rash: Pictures, At-Home Treatment, and Prevention

When the warmer weather arrives, most of us are spending a lot more time outside— from walking through trails in the woods, camping, working in the garden, or trimming brush in the backyard. With those outdoor activities comes some summer spoilers that can cause an irritating allergic reaction.


We are talking about poison ivy and its equally itch-inducing cousins, poison oak and poison sumac. Every year, about 50 million Americans find themselves dealing with the terrible tingle from the red rash these plants can produce.


Here is how to identify each plant and how to treat their rashes.


Pick Your Poison

One thing to note: All three plants, poison ivy, poison, oak, and poison sumac, contain an oily resin called urushiol. This is what causes the allergic reaction.



Poison ivy –Remember this saying, “Leaflets three, let it be.” The leaves of poison ivy vines are made up of three leaflets. In each set of leaflets, the middle leaflet has a longer stem than the other two and usually has a reddish stem. This vine can be found on the ground, climbing on trees, fences, and walls, and can also be found in small shrubs.



Poison oak –Like poison ivy, poison oak also has sets of three leaves. However, its leaf shape resembles an oak leaf. Poison oak is a low-growing, upright shrub. It can grow to be about three feet tall, sometimes giving it the appearance of a vine.

Poison sumac –Poison sumac looks a lot different than poison ivy and poison oak. Poison sumac is a small tree, not a bush or a vine, that can grow to be 30 feet tall. Its leaves resemble that of a fern. Poison sumac also has white, berry-like fruit that grows in loose clusters. The tree is mostly found in wet, swampy areas with clay-like soil.


Avoidance is Key


When gardening or doing activities in wooded areas, experts recommend wearing protective clothing such as gloves, long pants, and long-sleeved shirts, and try to avoid touching plants you do not recognize. These two tips alone will go a long way toward preventing contact with poisonous plants.


You can use pesticides to get rid of the poisonous plants instead of pulling them if you find them near your home. Burning the plants is not recommended. Burning these plants could cause urushiol particles to become airborne, where they can be inhaled and cause a severe reaction.


Reactions and Treatment


If you think you might have come into contact with poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac, rinse the area with lots of cool water and dish soap or rubbing alcohol as soon as possible. This might help remove some of the urushiol before it reacts with your skin and helps prevent its spread.


Anyone who comes into contact with these toxic plants can develop a rash. If the rash is severe enough, it can also cause symptoms such as fever, swelling, and blisters.


For the most part, poison ivy can be treated at home with cold compresses, over-the-counter antihistamines, and topical anti-itch creams, but there are some situations when you will need to seek medical or even emergency help.


These include:


  • The rash covers your face (lips, eyes, mouth).
  • The rash covers more than a quarter of your body’s surface.
  • Pusor discharge from the skin.
  • An odor coming from the fluid in the blisters.
  • Increasing redness around the wound.
  • Increasing pain round the wound.


If you experience any of these situations,  be sure to consult a provider at your local American Family Care for treatment options. No appointment is required, and we have extended hours for your convenience. Whatever the cause of your rash, we will diagnose and treat it. You can also learn how to protect your family from dangerous outdoor plants. Click here to find the nearest AFC.


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