Poison ivy - Pacific poison oak, Poison sumac, Skin rash

The Poison Ivy Blog

poison ivy fence in the Bronx
September 24, 2022

There is a wonderful book called "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn". This is a parallel story: A Vine Grows in the Bronx.

poison ivy face rash from smoke
September 16, 2022

Folks, this is why we run this site: to be able to warn people about the dangers of poison ivy (and poison oak and poison sumac).

Poison Ivy in Brooklyn, New York City
June 17, 2022

You don't usually think of poison ivy as a city plant, but it shows up in lots of cities; here in fabulous Brooklyn.

May 15, 2022

A viewer sent in this nice, clear photo of a tree trunk covered with massive, hairy, poison ivy vines. And since this is springtime, fresh leaves are sprouting out from the vine, in a joyful celebration of the new season.

On This Page

Poison Ivy Rash SymptomsPoison Ivy - Poison Oak Rash TreatmentsGetting Rid of Poison Ivy and Poison OakCalifornia Poison Oak and Its RashThe Rare Poison Sumac


Poison Ivy Rash Symptoms

poison ivy skin rash types

The first fact about the rash from poison ivy, oak, and sumac is that it is a VERY itchy rash. It's the mother of all rashes. For most people, it will be the most irritating, itchy skin experience they have ever had. It makes mosquito bites look like…nothing.

Identify Poison Ivy: The rash can show up with many different looks, depending on how a person gets the plant oil on them: a few spots, an entire rough area, or the dreaded fluid-filled bubbles. Many say the fluid may contain a substance called urushiol which is the oil that causes the rash; all medical sources say it does not. The rash almost always shows up the next day, after the actual exposure. It may start with a small reddish area, which grows in size and redness and in itchiness.

Usually the rash lasts two to three weeks, but this depends on how bad was the exposure, how bad is one’s sensitivity, and if you get poison ivy treatment from a doctor. Our advice is always this: for a small annoying rash either visit the drug store or just ignore it. But for a big, nasty rash, or one that is near the eyes, you must go to a medical clinic or hospital.

If these few images are not scary enough, visit our Skin Rash Hall of Fame to see more examples, including some horrific life-changing rashes.

You Touched Poison Ivy. Now What?

If you think you made contact with these plants, wash your skin with cool water immediately. Wipe the area with a cotton ball soaked in rubbing alcohol to help dissolve and remove the urushiol oil. You only have about 30 minutes after coming into contact with poisonous plants to minimize the symptoms of poison ivy. It's a good idea to wash your garden tools as well, and remove and wash your clothing so you don't spread the rash.

Learn more about the rash here.

Poison Ivy - Poison Oaks Rash Treatments

poison ivy rash

The rash from poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac is the same rash.

For a minor rash, either try to ignore it or see what the drug store has to offer. Many find relief from Zanfel.

For a large, or a fluid filled rash, you should see a dermatologist. Remember: the rash is an ALLERGIC reaction, not an infection. But if the skin opened, it can become an infection. Family physicians can help you avoid this.

For anything around the eyes or in other very sensitive areas we suggest getting right to the emergency room or medical clinic even if you're otherwise in good health.


For very bad cases, Prednisone is prescribed, but we are advised that you must take the entire prescription and not stop if the rash eases up.

Even though the rash is an alllergic reaction, Benedryl is, for some reason, not that effective. But you can try it.

The poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac rash is about the itchiest thing most people ever experience. Some have said that a very hot shower will stop the itching long enough to sleep for a while. Some say that aluminum deodorant or an oatmeal bath eases the rash. A home remedy such as these seems fairly harmless as long as you don't use water so hot you burn your skin.

You can also try soaking in an oatmeal bath and applying calamine lotion or a paste made from baking soda and water if the rash isn't too severe. Other over-the-counter products may work.

Some people have had luck with soaking a cotton ball in apple cider vinegar and applying it to the rash 3-4 times a day.

Normally, the rash lasts for 2 - 3 weeks, depending on the severity and whether you get medical treatment.

Here is more information about the rash.

Getting Rid of Poison Ivy and Pacific Poison Oak

controlling poison ivy

There really is no perfect or easy way. Outsmarting poison ivy is tricky.

To start with, you can do it yourself or hire someone. We list all the services we can find here.

And those services use one or another of the two methods available:

1. You can spray with weed killer, which will leave grass alive, but kill all broadleaf plants. This works, but many people are not comfortable using these sprays because of possible harm to humans, pets, and useful plants. In any case, you must follow the directions if you use spray.

2. You can tear out the plant by hand. The problem here is obvious: ripping the plant, especially the vines and roots, unleashes vast amounts of the urushiol oil that causes the rash. See the sap dripping from the chain-sawed vine in the photo? Imagine getting hit with the oily sawdust from that chainsaw!

So manual removal must be done with great care, possibly Hazmat suits, etc. This is most commonly done by professionals. Always wear protective clothing if you attempt to remove a poison plant yourself and to avoid contact. There are several risk factors involved with removing a poison ivy, oak, or sumac plant yourself.


Getting rid of the torn out vines can be another problem. One solution might be to drop them in a part of your property that is rarely used. Another would be to talk to your town about putting them into the yard waste or trash. But you must NEVER BURN POISON IVY OR POISON OAK! The smoke is very dangerous and can cause difficulty breathing and more severe health problems. One reason to hire a service is because they will take away the dead vines when they leave.

Here is more safety information about plant removal.

California Pacific Poison Oak and Its Rash

California poison oak

This is about the Pacific poison oak that grows throughout California.

(There is an Atlantic poison oak in the southeast, but it is just about the same as poison ivy.)

California ONLY has Pacific poison oak, other than a tiny bit of western poison ivy plants in the north.

Pacific poison oak grows as:

1. A ground vine, common along roads.

2. A climbing vine, going up trees and walls. Note that Pacific poison oak wraps around trees, whereas poison ivy has hairy roots that attach. So poison ivy is a better climber than Pacific poison oak.

3. A shrub. You see tons of shrub-style poison oak in California, including this photo, right next to welcome signs in a state park!

Some think the rash from poison oak is nastier than from poison ivy, but it is basically the same stuff: urushiol oil that penetrates the skin, then sends your body's immune system into an overdrive, which produces the redness, bubbles, and the worst itch you have ever had.

For a mild rash, ignore it or go to the drug store for a remedy such as hydrocortisone cream; for a bad case get to the dermatologist. For a REALLY BAD CASE near the eyes, get to the ER!

The rash is not an infection, but if you scratch it you can GET an infection.

Here is more information about Pacific poison oak. 

Here is information about Atlantic poison oak.

The Rare Poison Sumac

poison sumac

Poison sumac only grows in VERY wet areas, often right in the shallow water!

But there is great interest and suspicion about poison sumac. In 60 years, I have only seen it about 5 times, while poison ivy is unavoidable every day. Coming into contact with the plant is pretty rare.

However, if you do live on the edge of wetlands you might have poison sumac, and you might have lots of it!

One sure way to tell if it is poison sumac is with our SeeLeaf Detection wipes.

It has stringy berries that hang down not the red or yellow cone shapes fruits that stand up.

Sumac rashes are pretty much the same as poison ivy rashes and should be treated the same. You can try OTC remedies to relieve the itch, but seek medical care if the rash is near your eyes or severe.

Both staghorn and smooth sumac are VERY common, along many roads, just like poison ivy. But they are harmless and people even make tea from the red berries of staghorn sumac.

Here is information about poison sumac.