Our team of professionals and staff believe that informed patients are better equipped to make decisions regarding their health and well-being. For your personal use, we have created an extensive patient library covering an array of educational topics, which can be found on the side of each page. Browse through these diagnoses and treatments to learn more about topics of interest to you.
As always, you can contact our office to answer any questions or concerns.
Poison ivy, oak and sumac contain an oil called urushiol (you-ROO-shee-all). In most people, this oil causes an allergic reaction when it comes into contact with the skin, resulting in an itchy rash.
Poison ivy reaction
Every part of poison ivy, oak and sumac plants — the leaves, the stems and even the roots — contains urushiol, so you can experience an allergic reaction after any contact with them. Anything with this oil on it can cause an allergic reaction, so you also may experience a rash after touching something else — like a gardening tool, sporting equipment or even a pet’s fur — that has been in contact with these plants.
Additionally, poison ivy, oak and sumac release urushiol into the air if the plants are burned. If airborne oil particles land on your skin, you can experience an allergic reaction.
The first time you come into contact with urushiol, you may not experience a reaction for up to 21 days. If you have had an allergic skin reaction to urushiol in the past, the rash will likely appear sooner, within 12 to 72 hours.
Poison ivy, oak and sumac rashes are not contagious. It is not possible to get this type of rash by touching someone else’s rash.
An allergic reaction to the urushiol found in these plants can cause:
The rash can appear on any part of your body. It may take longer to appear on some parts of your body than others, due to a delayed reaction in these areas.
If you are exposed to airborne urushiol particles, you may develop an allergic reaction and experience:
Whether you touch a plant or get airborne particles of oil on your skin, the rash usually lasts 10 to 21 days.
your skin. This is most effective when done within 15 minutes of exposure.
Typical case of poison ivy
Your skin will be itchy while it is healing. You can relieve the itching by:
If the previous recommendations are not enough to control your symptoms, you should visit your doctor. You may need a prescription topical steroid ointment or a strong oral (taken by mouth) medication such as prednisone.
If the rash covers most of your body or you have trouble breathing or swallowing, you should visit the emergency room.
A board-certified dermatologist can help if you’re not sure whether your rash was caused by contact with poison ivy,
oak or sumac, or something else. The dermatologist can provide an accurate diagnosis, which will result in the best outcome.
If it is not possible to avoid going into areas where poison ivy, oak and sumac grow, you can protect your skin by applying a skin care product called an ivy block barrier. This type of product contains an ingredient called bentoquatum, which helps prevent urushiol from penetrating the skin.
Dermatologists also recommend wearing long pants, long sleeves, boots and work gloves made from a heavy fabric. These add another layer of protection to your skin.
A board-certified dermatologist is a medical doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and medical, surgical and cosmetic treatment of skin, hair and nail conditions. To learn more about poison ivy, oak and sumac or find a dermatologist in your area, visit aad.org/poison-plants or call toll-free (888) 462-DERM (3376).
All content solely developed by the American Academy of Dermatology.
Copyright © by the American Academy of Dermatology and the American Academy of Dermatology Association.
Images used with permission of the American Academy of Dermatology National Library of Dermatologic Teaching Slides
American Academy of Dermatology
P.O. Box 1968, Des Plaines, Illinois 60017
AAD Public Information Center: 888.462.DERM (3376) AAD Member Resource Center: 866.503.SKIN (7546) Outside the United States: 847.240.1280
Email: [email protected]