Skin Rashes: Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac

Skin Rashes: Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac Jul 20, 2021 / by Complete Family Dermatology Team

About Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac

      • What is it? Poison ivy, oak, and sumac are plants that cause a red and itchy rash known as contact dermatitis. These plants have a sticky, oily sap called urushiol, which triggers an allergic reaction when touched or transferred by objects. It’s important to know that you can get a rash by directly touching any part of these plants or by touching anything that has come in contact with them like clothing or a pet. 
      • Where is it located? Poison ivy and oak can be found in all continental U.S. states; whereas, poison sumac is more commonly found in the country’s eastern half. Beware of these plants in wooded or marshy areas. 
      • What does it look like? Poison ivy is known for its three leaves, but poison oak may be in groups of three, five, or seven leaves, and poison sumac may be in groups of seven to thirteen leaves. 

What to do if you touch a plant? 

      • What to do? If you think that you touched a poisonous plant, it’s important to act fast and carefully. By doing so, you may be able to prevent an irritating skin rash. Here’s what to do after coming in contact with one of these plants:
        • Immediately wash the affected area — Use rubbing alcohol, dishwashing soap, laundry detergent, or poison plant wash. Be gentle with your skin to avoid irritation. 
        • Thoroughly rinse with cool water — Rinse the area well to be sure to get rid of any product from your skin, which could irritate it further. 
        • Wash under your nails — Oil can get trapped underneath your nails, so give them a good scrub. 
        • Wash clothes, shoes, and other items - Wash contaminated items separately from other loads. Use regular laundry detergent and wash on hot. 
        • Clean surfaces — Use warm, soapy water to wipe down surfaces such as camping gear, gardening tools, or anything else that may have come in contact. 
        • Wear gloves — Wear cotton or vinyl gloves when handling contaminated items. Avoid latex gloves because urushiol can seep through the rubber.

When does the rash develop, and what does it look like?

      • When does it appear? A skin rash can develop anywhere from a couple of hours after contact or up a few weeks later depending on if you’ve had a plant rash before. The first time you get exposed, it will likely take 2 to 3 weeks. Or if you’ve had it before, it will usually appear within 4 to 48 hours
      • What does it look like? Most rashes appear as red, itchy bumps in the area that was in contact. However, some people develop black spots or streaks rather than a red rash, although it’s rare.
      • When does it go away? If you never had a rash from one of these plants before it can last 21 days or longer before it goes away. If you had a plant rash before, it typically goes away within 1 to 14 days

How to treat the rash?

    • How to treat it? If the rash is mild, in a small section, and you know the cause is from a poisonous plant, it can be treated at home. The American Academy of Dermatology Association recommends these steps to relieve the itch:
      • Take short, lukewarm baths
      • Use calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream
      • Apply cool compresses to the skin
      • Consider taking antihistamine pills
    • Do be aware that some symptoms can lead to difficulty of breathing, swelling, itchiness, body rashes, and a fever. If this happens, seek medical care immediately.

Visit a Dermatologist

As you’re taking hikes or working in the garden this summer, it’s crucial that you look out for these poisonous plants. If you develop a rash that you’re not sure of or that doesn’t improve, visit us at Complete Family Dermatology in Lincoln, NE. We can help treat the skin rash and relieve the itch. Give us a call at 402-423-1111 to schedule an appointment!

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