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Definition Return to top
Poison ivy, oak, or sumac poisoning is an allergic reaction that results from touching the sap of these plants. The sap may be on the plant, in the ashes of burned plants, on an animal, or on other objects that came in contact with the plant, such as clothing, garden tools, and sports equipment.
Small amounts of sap can remain under a person's fingernails for several days unless it is deliberately removed with very good cleaning.
This is for information only and not for use in the treatment or management of an actual poison exposure. If you have an exposure, you should call your local emergency number (such as 911) or the National Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.
Poisonous Ingredient Return to top
One poisonous ingredient is the chemical urushiol.
Where Found Return to top
Symptoms Return to top
Home Care Return to top
Wash the area immediately with soap and water. Quickly washing the area can prevent a reaction, but it doesn't usually help if done more than 1 hour after touching the plant's sap.
Carefully wash any contaminated objects or clothing alone in hot soapy water. Do not let the items touch any other clothing or materials.
An over-the-counter antihistamine such as Benadryl or a steroid cream may help relieve itching.
Before Calling Emergency Return to top
Determine the following information:
Poison Control Return to top
The National Poison Control Center (1-800-222-1222) can be called from anywhere in the United States. This national hotline number will let you talk to experts in poisoning. They will give you further instructions.
This is a free and confidential service. All local poison control centers in the United States use this national number. You should call if you have any questions about poisoning or poison prevention. It does NOT need to be an emergency. You can call for any reason, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Take the container with you to the hospital, if possible.
See: Poison control center - emergency number
What to Expect at the Emergency Room Return to top
Unless the reaction is severe, you will probably not need to visit the emergency room. If you are concerned, call your doctor or poison control.
At the doctor's office, you may receive:
Outlook (Prognosis) Return to top
Life-threatening reactions may occur if the poisonous ingredients are swallowed or are breathed in (which can happen when the plants are burned).
Typical skin rashes usually go away without any long-term problems. A skin infection may develop if the affected areas are not kept clean.
References Return to top
Auerbach PS, ed. Wilderness Medicine. 4th ed. St. Louis, Mo: Mosby; 2001:194-195.Update Date: 2/17/2009 Updated by: A.D.A.M. Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Greg Juhn, MTPW, David R. Eltz. Previously reviewed by Stephen C. Acosta, MD, Department of Emergency Medicine, Portland VA Medical Center, Portland, OR. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network (5/20/2008).