‘Tis the season for Poison Ivy, Sumac, and Oak!

Hiking, camping, going to excluded beaches, and enjoying the amazing sunny weather unfortunately also leads to a lot of unfortunate exposures to plants that can be irritants and cause rashes, just like Poison Ivy, Poison Sumac, and Poison Oak. What are the symptoms of the rashes?  The at home treatments and when to go see a Healthcare Practitioner (HCP).

What is a Poison Ivy, Sumac, and Oak reaction?

Poison Ivy, Sumac, and Oak all have an oil on their leaves that causes a contact dermatitis for most people. The reaction usually occurs where the oil, urushiol, from leaves directly comes in contact with the skin.  The reaction can spread though, if you do not know that you have been in contact with the plants, with your hand, then rub your face, for example, the rash may spread, until you wash your hands and wash the oils off.  And, the good news is that the rashes are usually pretty self-limiting, and pending a few specific circumstances, you can treat with home remedies and are better before you know it!  There are a couple of circumstances in which you will want to see a Healthcare Practitioner (HCP)….but no need to rush to the Emergency Department, so your wallet can breathe a sigh of relief.

What are the symptoms?

These rashes are generally red and itchy, but they can also be swollen and blister as well. The reaction can take 12 to 48 hours to occur, and can last up to a total of 8 weeks until it completely clears up, but it usually goes away within 2 to 4 weeks.  It all depends on how much of that urushiol oil your skin is exposed to, the more oils, the longer you will have the rash, unfortunately.  And, as I said earlier, there are a few reasons why you would want to see an HCP:

-If the reaction is severe and covers a good percentage of your body

-If the rash is IN your eyes or in/around your genitals (watch out when using leaves to wipe when you camp!)

-If the blisters start oozing pus or appear to be infected, and are not showing signs of improvement in a couple of weeks.

-If you get a fever of 100.4F or higher, and generally don’t feel well.

What is the treatment?

Usually the “treatments” are methods to prevent discomfort from the reaction. You can always take an antihistamine, such as Benadryl, which can help to decrease the reaction and help with the swelling and itching.  Oatmeal baths can help to soothe the skin, and decrease the itchiness.  Benadryl Gel or Calamine lotions are sold over the counter at pharmacies and help with the itchiness of the rashes.  If you have blistering, cold compresses can help to soothe the skin.  If you have a widespread rash, and it is severe, your HCP may prescribe prednisone, a steroid, which can help reduce swelling and itching. Also there is a plant called Jewelweed that the Native Americans used as a treatment for poison ivy rashes, a large study found that it was ineffective in helping diminish the rashes BUT a large study in the 1970’s found that 5% Bovine Cartilage Cream is very effective in treating the rashes when applied daily.

How can you prevent it?

Know what the plants look like and stay away!

Poison Oak 

Poison Sumac

Poison Ivy

Also, a study found that if you spray your clothes and skin with spray deodorant that contains aluminum cholorohydrate, it can prevent the urushiol from getting onto your skin and causing a reaction.  It’s like a clear skin barrier!  But always make sure to wash your hands and clothes if you suspect that you have been exposed!

So, obviously prevention is key, but if you are exposed, get that calamine lotion (which is chalky and white) or the clear Benadryl gel to help with the itchiness, take those oatmeal baths, and try not to itch!!

Yours in Good Health



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5 thoughts on “‘Tis the season for Poison Ivy, Sumac, and Oak!

  1. Well I am quite satisfied with that opinion given in your site. I think it must be implacable in real life.

  2. Poison Ivy, Poison Sumac, and Poison Oak, not to mention the existence of animal wildlife, are just a few of the reasons why I think that humans should never venture beyond downtown city streets. You generally aren’t confronted with any of those dangers there.

    My opinion is that if we aren’t going to make the best possible use of our cities we shouldn’t have invented them in the first place.

  3. As someone whose dogs bring Poison Oak in with them, I’ve learned to LOVE Technu as a washing agent for the oils. I’m curious if you’ve heard of this rumor that each outbreak you get a little more reactive than the last. Any truth to that?

    • well, yes, there is some truth to that, the more you are exposed, the worse your allergic reactions will be….same with food allergies; the more you expose yourself, your antigens are activated and at the ready and the more intense the reaction will be. Luckily my pooches just hang far from poison ivy, but too close to other animals droppings 🙁

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