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What to Do About Poison Ivy

First Aid

Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac plants contain an oil (called urushiol) that can cause an allergic rash in most people who have contact with it. The plants look different, but they cause the same type of symptoms.

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

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Poison Ivy?

  • itching
  • a red rash that starts 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, which might take a few weeks

How Do I Treat a Poison Ivy Rash?

  • Remove any clothing that has touched the plant.
  • Gently wash skin and scrub under fingernails right away with water and mild soap or dish soap.
  • Encourage your child not to scratch and try not to break the blisters.
  • Cut fingernails short to keep your child from breaking the skin when scratching.
  • Place cool compresses on the skin as needed for itching.
  • For itching: Add oatmeal to the bath and put calamine lotion on the skin (but not on the face or on the genitals). Antihistamines aren’t usually helpful for the itching from poison ivy, but doctors might recommend them to help itchy kids sleep. Talk to your doctor about what might help your child’s itching. 

When Should I Get Medical Care for a Poison Ivy Rash?

Call the doctor if:

  • 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)

Get Emergency Medical Care for Poison Ivy if Your Child:

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

What Can Prevent a Poison Ivy Rash?

To help prevent poison ivy exposure and rashes:

  • Teach kids what poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac plants look like and to stay away from them.
  • Kids should wear long-sleeved shirts and pants when they're in areas where poison ivy might be (like in the woods, parks, or even your backyard).
  • After playing outdoors, have kids wash their hands well. It also can help for them to change clothes and take a shower or bath.
  • If you think your child touched a poison ivy plant, have them wash with dish soap. It can be better at removing the oil from the plant.

Reviewed by: Melanie L. Pitone, MD
Date Reviewed: Jun 2, 2023

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