Understanding Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac -- Prevention

Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on July 26, 2021
1 min read

The best way to deal with this poisonous threesome is to learn to recognize the plants, then avoid them. Poison ivy -- with its shiny, sometimes reddish, yellow- or orange-colored leaves -- shares with poison oak a characteristic three-leaf pattern. Poison sumac has paired, pointed leaves, sometimes with yellow-white berries. Each leaf has seven to 13 leaflets.

If you suspect contact with a poison plant, wash immediately and thoroughly with soap and water -- your skin, clothes, shoes, tools -- anything that might have picked up the plant's toxic resin. If you're going into poison-plant country, try one of the barrier lotions available from outdoor suppliers. The old folk tale about eating poison ivy leaves to make yourself immune is just that -- a myth. Never eat the leaves or berries of poison ivy or other wild plants, many of which can cause very dangerous reactions.

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American Academy of Dermatology: "Poison ivy: Tips for treating and preventing."

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