First Aid for Poison Ivy

Poison ivy, oak, and sumac are the most common plants that cause a skin rash. A sap that comes from these plants causes the rash. The sap is not really a poison, but can cause an allergic reaction in some people.

Signs & Symptoms

The skin rash comes a day or two after contact with the plant. Symptoms that follow can range from mild to severe.

  • Itching
  • Redness
  • Burning feeling
  • Swelling
  • Blisters


You can get poison ivy, oak, or sumac when you touch one of these plants or pets, clothes, shoes, etc. that have the sap on them. Contact with the smoke of these burning plants can also cause a rash.


Self-care treats most cases of poison ivy, oak, and sumac. For severe cases, your doctor may prescribe medicine(s).

Self-Care / Prevention

To Prevent Getting a Rash

  • Know what these plants look like and avoid them. (See above.)
  • Poison ivy and poison oak both have 3 leaflets per stem. This is why you may have heard the saying, “Leaflets three, let them be.”
  • Poison sumac has 7 to 11 leaflets.
  • Use an over-the-counter lotion (IvyBlock), which blocks skin contact with the sap. Use it as directed.
  • To help prevent an allergic reaction, do the things listed below. Do them within 6 hours of contact with one of the plants.

Avoid contact with poison ivy, oak, and sumac.

  • Remove all clothes and shoes that have touched the plant.
  • Wash your skin with soap and water.
  • Apply rubbing alcohol or alcohol wipes to the parts of the skin that are affected.
  • Use an over-the-counter product (e.g., Tecnu) that removes poison ivy sap.
  • Rinse the affected area with water.

To Treat Poison Ivy, Oak, or Sumac

  • Take a cold shower, put the rash area in cold water, or pour cold water over it. Use soap when you shower.
  • To relieve itching, take an over-the-counter antihistamine, such as Benadryl. Follow the label’s directions.
  • For weeping blisters, mix 2 teaspoons of baking soda in 4 cups of water. Dip squares of gauze in this mixture. Cover the blisters with wet gauze for 10 minutes, 4 times a day. Do not apply this to the eyes.
  • Wash all clothes and shoes with hot water and a strong soap. Bathe pets that have come in contact with the plant. The sap can stay on pets for many days. Clean items used to wash clothing and pets. Wear rubber gloves when you do all these things.
  • Keep your hands away from your eyes, mouth, and face.
  • Do not scratch or rub the rash.
  • Apply any of these to the skin rash:
  • Calamine (not Caladryl) lotion.
  • Over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream. Follow the directions on the label.
  • A paste of 3 teaspoons of baking soda and 1 teaspoon of water.
  • Take baths with lukewarm water. Add an over-the-counter product called Aveeno colloidal oatmeal.
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Written by American Institute for Preventive Medicine

Explore Wellness in 2021