Poison Ivy/Oak/Sumac

Poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac can cause an allergic rash in some people when their skin comes into contact with the oil found on these plants


Symptoms of poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac include:

  • Redness or rash where plant oil touched the skin
  • Raised itchy red bumps or areas (often called hives)
  • Fluid-filled blisters that may burst or leak

Although the rash usually appears within 48 hours of contact, it can take up to a week in people who have not had previous contact. After the rash first appears, it may continue to develop in other areas over a period of hours or days if they have come into direct contact with the plant’s oil—either by touching the plant or by touching something that has the plant’s oil on it. However, once you wash the oil off an area of skin, it cannot be transferred to other parts of the body or other people.

Even very small amounts of these plants’ oil may cause a severe reaction in people who are highly allergic. A severe reaction can include symptoms in other areas of the body, such as:

  • Swelling of the face, mouth and/or neck that make it difficult to breathe
  • Swelling of the eyelids that may prevent opening
  • Large blisters over a wide area of the body

A serious acute reaction may result in a life-threatening condition known as anaphylactic shock, which must be treated immediately by a healthcare professional—call 911 immediately if a severe reaction occurs.


Avoiding the plants is the best protection against getting this type of rash. Learning to identify these plants is the only way to do so. Unfortunately, avoiding the plants may not prevent you from coming into contact with the plants’ oil when it is carried on something else, like animals or clothing.

Wear protective clothing that covers your legs and arms—even your hands and face—if you anticipate possible exposure to these plants. Barrier creams may also help, especially on exposed areas that may be impractical to cover, such as the hands and face.


Removing or managing the cause of the itch is the first step toward itch relief. Wash the area with cool water as soon as possible after contact with these plants. A wet compress and cool/tepid baths can help relieve symptoms.

For mild cases, nonprescription oral antihistamine medications can help suppress the allergic reaction. Topical medications, such as SARNA Original lotion, can help relieve the itch and rash. Moderate cases may also require prescription antihistamine and corticosteroid pills, creams or ointments. Severe reactions require immediate medical treatment.

If your doctor believes you have been affected by contact with poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac, you may be prescribed medications to help relieve your symptoms.

Without treatment, most mild cases will be gone in about two weeks, but may take up to six weeks in those who are very sensitive to the plants’ oil. However, medications may help promote healing and provide relief from swelling and itching.

Seek medical treatment immediately for severe reactions that may involve swelling of the eyes, mouth or throat that cause difficulty breathing. Severe allergic reactions may require immediate intervention with corticosteroid or antihistamine injections.

1. Data on file, Crown Laboratories