Close mobile menu×
Close mobile menu

Poison Ivy / Poison Oak

To make an appointment with ColumbiaDoctors Dermatology, please call (212) 305-5293.

Did You Know?

  • Scratching poison ivy blisters will not spread the rash.
  • The poison ivy rash is not contagious. Only the oil found in the sap of poison ivy (urushiol) can cause a reaction.

What is poison ivy / poison oak?

Three native American plants that may be collectively called  poison ivy:

  • Poison oak
  • Poison ivy
  • Poison sumac

These plants can cause an allergic reaction in almost 85 percent of the population. To be allergic to poison ivy, the body must first be "sensitized" to the oils. This means that only in the second time of contact with the plant, a rash may occur.

What causes an allergic reaction?

The resin in the plants contains an oily matter called urushiol. Urushiol can remain active for a year or longer and is quickly transferred from the plants to other objects, including toys, tools, garments, and animals. Urushiol can also be transferred from clothing and pets, and can even be present in the smoke from a burning plant.

What are the symptoms of poison ivy/poison oak?

Each individual may experience symptoms differently. The following are the most common symptoms of poison ivy:

  • Swelling in the area of contact
  • Dermatitis rash characterized by itching bumps and blisters
  • Blisters that break open, ooze, and then crust over

The symptoms of poison ivy may resemble other skin conditions. Always advise a doctor for a diagnosis.

Treatment for poison ivy/poison oak:

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

  • Age, overall health, and medical history
  • Tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • Extent of the condition
  • Patient’s opinion or preference
  • Expectations for the course of the condition

It is important to teach family and friends what the plants look like and to avoid touching them. Avoiding poisonous plants is always the best treatment.

If contact with the plants has already occurred, cleansing and removing the oils from the skin with soap within six hours after the initial exposure has proven to be effective. Repeat the cleaning three times. Alcohol-based wipes also may help remove the oils. Wash all clothes and shoes.

If the blisters and rash are on the face, near the genitals, or all over the body, notify a physician as soon as possible. After a medical history and physical examination, a physician may prescribe a steroid cream, oral steroids, or steroid injections to decrease the swelling and itching, depending on the severity of the rash.

Is poison ivy/poison oak contagious?

Poison ivy/poison oak cannot be spread by touching the blisters, or from the fluid inside the blisters. It can be spread, however, if the oils remain on the skin, clothes, or shoes. Wash your hands, clothes, and shoes as soon as possible.

How do I prevent poison ivy / poison oak?

  • Teach family and friends to recognize the plants.
  • Wear long pants and long sleeves when poison ivy or poison oak are in the area.
  • Wash all clothes and shoes immediately after you have been outside.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly.
  • Do not touch a pet that might have been in contact with a poisonous plant.