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Poison ivy - oak - sumac


Poison ivy, oak, or sumac poisoning is an allergic reaction from contact with the sap of plants such as poison ivy , poison oak, or poison sumac. Contact may be indirect, such as petting an animal that came in contact with the plant. The sap can also contaminate clothing, garden tools, and sports equipment such as fishing rods or golf clubs.

Small amounts of sap can remain under a person's fingernails for several days unless it is deliberately removed by meticulous cleaning. The droplets of sap can even be found in the ashes of burned plants.

Poisonous Ingredient

One poisonous ingredient is the chemical urushiol.

Where Found

  • Bruised roots, stems, flowers, leaves, fruit
  • Pollen of poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac
Note: This list may not be all inclusive.


Skin symptoms include:

  • Itching
  • Burning
  • Redness
  • Blisters
  • Swelling

Home Treatment

Wash the area immediately with soap and water. Prompt washing can prevent a reaction, but is of little help more than 1 hour after exposure. Isolate and carefully wash any contaminated objects or clothing in hot soapy water.

An antihistamine cream or steroid cream may help with the itching. An oral antihistamine, such as Benadryl, may relieve some of the itching.

Before Calling Emergency

Determine the following information:
  • The patient's age, weight, and condition
  • The name of the plant
  • The amount swallowed (if swallowed)

Poison Control, or a local emergency number

Call or see your health care provider for advice about visiting the emergency room. See poison control centers for the national telephone number. Unless the reaction is severe, the individual will probably not need to visit the emergency room.

What to expect at the emergency room

Treatment you may receive in the emergency room includes:
  • Washing the affected areas
  • Applying an antihistamine or steroid cream
  • Giving oral antihistamines or steroids

Note: Some or all of these procedures may be performed.

Expectations (prognosis)

Life-threatening reactions may occur if the poisonous ingredients are ingested or inhaled (such as from burning plants). However, typical skin exposures resolve without any long-term problems. A secondary skin infection may develop if the exposed areas are not kept clean.

Update Date: 5/17/2003

Todd Severson, M.D., Department of Emergency Medicine, University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.

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Last updated: Tue, 06 Jan 2009 00:20:03 GMT