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Poison Ivy,Oak,or Sumac - Prevention

Only the oil (urushiol) from poison ivy, oak, or sumac plants can cause a rash (allergic contact dermatitis ). The best way to avoid contact with urushiol and getting a rash is to avoid the plants.

  • Learn to recognize these plants, especially those near where you live. The plants may look different depending on the season and the area where they are growing. A county agricultural extension service may be able to help you identify the plants in your area. See a picture of poison ivy, oak, and sumac leaves .
  • Even though their appearance changes with the seasons, the plants usually contain the same amount of urushiol year-round, even in the winter when they only appear as bare sticks. Black areas on the plants may help you identify them in the winter (urushiol turns black when exposed to air). Living, dormant, and dead plants all contain urushiol, although dead leaves do not contain a lot of it.
  • You may also try to remove the plants when appropriate. Never handle these plants without vinyl gloves (urushiol can penetrate rubber).
  • When you cannot avoid being near poison ivy, heavy clothing (long pants, long sleeves, enclosed footwear) may help prevent the oil from touching your skin. Clothing or any other object that has touched the plant must be handled carefully and washed thoroughly.
  • If you are often in areas where poison ivy, oak, or sumac grows, you may want to get a product (such as Tecnu or Zanfel) that is designed to remove the plant oil (urushiol) from your skin.
  • Barrier creams and lotions can be used to prevent urushiol from contacting the skin or to reduce the severity of a reaction. These creams vary in their potency and are not always effective.

If you suspect that your skin has touched poison ivy, oak, or sumac, wash the area to help prevent a reaction. Clothing and other items that may have oil on them should be thoroughly washed right away too.


WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: August 30, 2011
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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