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Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, and Poison Sumac: Brief Version


What is poison ivy, oak, and sumac?

Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac are plants that are found all over North America. Leaves, stems, roots and berries of all of these plants cause the same type of skin rash. More than 50% of people are sensitive to the oil of these plants. The rash usually lasts 2 weeks. Your child probably has touched one of these plants if:

  • There is an area of skin with very itchy streaks or patches of redness and blisters.
  • Your child gets a rash 1 or 2 days after being in a forest or field.

How can I take care of my child?

  • Wash the skin.

    If you think your child has had contact with one of these plants, wash the skin with any soap as soon as possible.

  • Cool soaks to reduce itching.

    Soak the area with the rash in cold water or massage it with an ice cube for 20 minutes as often as necessary.

  • Steroid creams.

    Apply a steroid cream 4 times a day to reduce the itching. Buy some nonprescription 1% hydrocortisone cream.

  • Benadryl.

    If the rash still itches, give Benadryl pills (no prescription needed) every 6 hours as needed.

  • Contagiousness.

    The fluid from the sores themselves cannot spread the rash. However, the oil or sap from the plant can cause the rash for about a week. The oil or sap may stay on a pet's fur or on shoes or clothes. Wash it off pets or clothes with soap and water.

How can I help prevent poison ivy, oak, or sumac?

Wear long pants and socks when walking through woods that may contain poison ivy, oak, or sumac. Before going into the woods, use a skin cream called IvyBlock to protect the skin.

Call your child's doctor during office hours if:

  • The itching becomes very bad, even with treatment.
  • The skin looks infected (you see pus or soft yellow scabs).
  • The rash lasts longer than 2 weeks.
  • You have other concerns or questions.

Written by B.D. Schmitt, MD, author of "Your Child's Health," Bantam Books.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2009-11-23
Last reviewed: 2010-06-02

This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a health care professional.

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