Treatments for Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on April 26, 2022
3 min read

Whether your itchy rash is from poison ivy, oak, or sumac, you've got plenty of choices to get relief. For most folks, those annoying bumps and blisters will be nothing but a bad memory in a few weeks.

First, wash exposed skin with soap and warm water. Washing within 10 minutes can greatly reduce the chance of an allergic reaction. Take off any contaminated clothing to prevent more contact with plant oils, and wash it thoroughly.

Even though your rash can go away on its own in 1 to 3 weeks, your skin will feel better if you take some steps at home.

To help with oozing problems, try over-the-counter creams or lotions that you put on the rash, such as those that contain:

  • Aluminum acetate (Burow's solution)
  • Aluminum sulfate
  • Calcium acetate

For itchiness, apply calamine lotion, baking soda, or colloidal oatmeal to your skin.

You can also get relief from a steroid cream if you use it during the first few days after you get a rash. But experts say over-the-counter steroids, such as 1% hydrocortisone, may not be strong enough to do the job. Your doctor may need to prescribe a stronger version.

Some folks take antihistamines, but they won't make your itchiness go away. Antihistamines that make you feel sleepy, though, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl), can help you take your mind off the itchy feeling when you go to bed.

Your skin will feel better if you soak in a bathtub with cool water and an oatmeal-based bath product. Or place a cool, wet compress on the rash for 15 to 30 minutes at a time, a few times a day.

There are a few things to avoid. As tough as it is to resist, don't scratch the blisters. Bacteria on your hands can get into the blisters and lead to an infection.

Also, some creams or ointments can make your rash worse. Don't use any of these:

Some people have a more serious reaction to poison ivy, oak, or sumac. Make an appointment with your doctor if you notice any of these problems:

  • Temperature over 100 F
  • Pus on the rash
  • Soft yellow scabs
  • Itching that gets worse or keeps you up at night
  • The rash spreads to your eyes, mouth, or genital area
  • Your rash doesn't get better within a few weeks

Your doctor may prescribe an oral corticosteroid, such as prednisone. They may also give you a steroid cream to apply to your skin. If the rash becomes infected, you may need to take an oral antibiotic.

If you have a severe reaction to poison ivy, oak, or sumac, you should go to the emergency room right away. Some signs that you need medical help quickly are:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • An eyelid swells shut
  • Rash on your face or genitals
  • Your skin itches everywhere, and nothing makes it feel better