What does a poison ivy, oak or sumac rash look like?
When your skin is exposed to poison ivy/oak or poison sumac your body develops an allergic reaction from the oil (urushiol) residue that is found on the leaves of all three plants. This reaction generally produces a rash with red bumps and blisters that are itchy and sensitive to touch. The rash will often form a linear pattern (as do many rashes that are caused by plants), and usually appears eight to 48 hours after initial exposure.
Although many people believe poison ivy, oak and sumac are contagious and can be spread all over the body, the truth is the rash is not contagious, nor will it invade uninfected areas. Once the oil touches your skin, the oil is bound to that specific area and can no longer be transferred. The rash may appear to have spread since some areas of the body tend to develop symptoms faster than others, but generally the rash appears in different areas of the body because the oil was transferred from clothing, animal fur, backpacks or gardening tools.
It is also important to know that inhaling the smoke from burning poison ivy/oak or poison sumac can lead to inflammation of the lungs.
Before I begin with the treatment, I must note that you should get immediate medical care if you have:
- Trouble breathing or swallowing
- Swelling, especially of the eyelid
- A rash covering most of your body
- A rash involving your genitals or face
Now, here is my advice for treating reactions to poison ivy, oak and sumac.
First, try to remove the oil from your skin with rubbing alcohol. While most of us do not carry a bottle of rubbing alcohol around with us, a good trick is to wash the area off with hand sanitizer since it is usually alcohol-based. There are many over-the-counter poison ivy/oak/sumac products that can help remove the oil, but if you are in the middle of the woods hand sanitizer should do the trick!
After you attempt to remove the oil with an alcohol-based product, wash the area with soap and water. Then apply a wet, cold compress to the exposed areas. This will help with the inflammation. Next, wash all of the clothing and items you were wearing including backpacks, shoes, socks, etc. that may have had contact with the plant.
Once the rash and/or itching develops, use an anti-itch cream to relieve the itch. Although the rash is itchy, scratching the skin can lead to harmful bacterial infections.
If the rash is more severe, you should see your doctor. Depending on the severity of your reaction your doctor may prescribe a steroid cream, pill, or injection.
How long do the symptoms last?
Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac symptoms can last anywhere from one week to one month.
Call your doctor if your symptoms worsen after you stop treatment. This may mean that you need a longer treatment plan.