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Skin Problems & Treatments Health Center

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Poison Ivy, Oak, or Sumac - Topic Overview


How is the rash diagnosed?

A doctor can usually diagnose the rash by looking at it and asking questions about:

  • When you were exposed to the plant.
  • How long it took the rash to develop.
  • Other rashes you have had.
  • Your outdoor activities, work, and hobbies.

How is it treated?

If you get a mild rash, you can take care of it at home.

  • Apply a wet cloth, or soak the area in cool water.
  • Use calamine lotion to help relieve itching.
  • Try not to scratch the rash. Scratching could cause a skin infection.

Do not use the following medicines. They can cause allergy problems of their own:

See your doctor if the rash covers a large area of your body or your symptoms are severe. A doctor may prescribe a corticosteroid cream to help clear up the rash. A severe rash may be treated with corticosteroid pills or shots.

How can you prevent the rash from poison ivy, oak, and sumac?

If you think you have touched any of these plants:

  • Wash your skin right away with plenty of water and mild soap (such as dishwashing soap) or rubbing alcohol. Rinse often, so that the soap or rubbing alcohol doesn't dry on the skin and make the rash worse.
  • Use a brush to clean under your nails.
  • Wash any clothing or other items that might have the oil on them. Do it right away.

The best way to prevent future rashes is to learn to identify these plantscamera.gif and avoid them.

When you can't avoid contact with the plants:

  • Wear long pants, long sleeves, and closed shoes to help keep the oil from getting on your skin.
  • Wear vinyl or leather gloves. Rubber (latex), cotton, or wool gloves offer no protection.
  • Use a barrier cream or lotion that contains bentoquatam (such as IvyBlock). It can help keep the oil from coming in contact with your skin.
  • Wash well or throw away anything that came into contact with the plants.

Experts say not to burn plants like poison ivy, oak, or sumac. When these plants burn, urushiol attaches to smoke particles. Exposure to the smoke can cause a rash on your skin. Breathing in the smoke can also hurt your lungs.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: March 12, 2014
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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