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Managing a Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, or Poison Sumac Reaction

If you come in contact with urushiol

Closeup of man washing hands in sink.

If you think you may have come in contact with the sap oil (called urushiol) contained in poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac plants, wash the affected part of your skin. Do this within 15 minutes after contact. Use water or preferably, soap and water.  Undress, and wash your clothes and gear as soon as you can. Be sure to wash any pet that was with you. Taking these steps can help prevent spreading sap oil to someone else. If you have a rash, but are not sure if it is from one of these plants, see your healthcare provider.

To soothe the itching

Your skin may react to poison oak, poison ivy, and poison sumac within hours to a few days after contact. Once you have come into contact with these plants, you can’t stop the reaction. But you can take these steps to soothe the itching:

  • Don’t scratch or scrub your rash. Not even if the itching is severe. Scratching can lead to infection.

  • Bathe in lukewarm (not hot) water. Or take short cool showers to relieve the itching. For a more soothing bath, add oatmeal to the water.

  • Use antihistamines that are taken by mouth. These include diphenhydramine. You can buy these at the pharmacy. Talk to your healthcare provider or pharmacist for more information on oral antihistamines.

  • Use over-the-counter treatments on your skin. These include cortisone and calamine lotion.

How your skin may react

A mild rash may become red, swollen, and itchy. The rash may form a line on your skin where you brushed against the plant. If you have a severe rash, your itching may worsen. And your rash may blister and ooze. If this happens, seek medical care. The fluid from your blisters will not make your rash spread. With or without medical care, your rash may last up to 3 weeks. In the future, try to avoid coming in contact with these plants.

When to call your healthcare provider

Call your healthcare provider if:

  • Your rash is severe

  • The rash spreads beyond the exposed part of your body or affects your face.

  • The rash does not clear up within a few weeks

You may be given medicine to take by mouth or apply directly on the skin.

Call 911

Call 911 if you have any of the following:

  • Trouble breathing or swallowing

  • Any significant swelling

© 2000-2017 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.