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First Aid: Poison Ivy/Oak/Sumac

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD

First Aid

The oil in poison ivy/oak/sumac plants (called urushiol) can cause an allergic rash in 60% to 80% of people who come into contact with it.

Mild rashes can be treated at home, and mostly cause discomfort from itching, burning, or blistering. Severe, widespread rashes require medical treatment.

Signs and Symptoms

  • an itchy red rash that appears within 4 hours to 4 days after touching the plant oil
  • blisters that ooze clear fluid
  • bumps and blisters that may be different sizes and look like streaks on the skin
  • rash may begin to look crusty as it heals

What to Do

  • Remove any clothing that has touched the plant or rash and wash all recently worn clothing.
  • Gently wash skin and scrub under fingernails right away with soap and water.
  • Cut fingernails short to keep your child from breaking the skin when scratching.
  • Place cool compresses on the skin as needed.
  • For itching: add oatmeal to the bath; use calamine lotion (do not use on the face or on the genitals); and, if needed, give your child diphenhydramine.

Seek Medical Care


  • the rash covers a large portion of the body or is on the face or genitals
  • the rash is getting worse despite home treatment
  • the skin looks infected (increasing redness, warmth, pain, swelling, or pus)

Seek Emergency Medical Care

If Your Child:

  • has a known severe allergy to poison ivy/oak/sumac
  • develops swelling of the tongue or throat
  • complains of chest tightness or difficulty breathing
  • develops widespread redness or swelling
  • was given a shot of epinephrine (EpiPen)

Think Prevention!

  • Teach kids what poison ivy/oak/sumac plants look like and how important they are to avoid.
  • Make sure kids always wear long-sleeved shirts and pants whenever playing close to these plants.
  • Have kids wash their hands well after being outdoors.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: April 2014