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Poison Ivy / Poison Oak

What is poison ivy/poison oak?

There are three native American plants that collectively may be called poison ivy:

  • poison ivy
  • poison oak
  • poison sumac

These plants can cause an allergic reaction in nearly 85 percent of the population. To be allergic to poison ivy, you must first be “sensitized” to the oils. This means that next time there is contact with the plant, a rash may occur.

What causes an allergic reaction?

The resin in the plants contains an oily substance called urushiol. Urushiol is easily transferred from the plants to other objects, including toys, garments, tools, and animals. This chemical can remain active for a year or longer. It is important to know that the oils can also be transferred from clothing, pets, and can be present in the smoke from a burning plant.

Treatment for poison ivy/poison oak:

Specific treatment for poison ivy/poison oak will be determined by your physician based on:

  • your age, overall health, and medical history
  • extent of the condition
  • your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • expectations for the course of the condition
  • your opinion or preference

Making sure you avoid the poisonous plants is the best treatment. It is important to teach your family members what the plants look like and not to touch them.

If contact with the plants has already occurred, you should remove the oils from the skin as soon as possible by cleansing with an ordinary soap. Repeat the cleaning with the soap three times. There are also alcohol-based wipes that help remove the oils. Wash all clothes and shoes also, because the oils can remain on these.

If the blisters and rash are on the face, near the genitals, or all over the body, your physician should be notified. After a medical history and physical examination, your physician may prescribe a steroid cream, oral steroids, or steroid injections to help with the swelling and itching, depending upon the severity of the rash.