Recognize, Prevent and Treat Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, and Poison Sumac

Learn what causes poison ivy, oak or sumac rash and how to treat it, as well as tips on recognizing, avoiding contact with, and eradicating these toxic plants.

| May/June 1989

Eastern Poison Oak

Eastern poison oak (Toxicodendron toxicarium, also T. quercifolium).


Finally, you yank out the last few stubborn weeds—a bunch of vines with stringy roots—and stand to admire the new perennial bed you've just cleared along the edge of woods bordering your driveway. "Whew, it's hot," you think, wiping your brow. You rub your back, aching from hours of stooped-over labor, and massage a near-terminally kinked neck. Still, it feels good to have that work done; with the area grubbed out you can start planting tomorrow. Now for a nice cold drink and maybe a little nap.

You walk into the garage, toss your work gloves onto a bench and dust your shirt and pants off a bit before going upstairs. On your way to the refrigerator you stop off in the bathroom—nature calls. A few minutes later, frosty mug in hand, you settle back in an easy chair. Ahhhh. A half-hour later, you're asleep.

Poor, miserable devil.

You don't know it yet, but you've just joined at least 2 million other Americans who, in 1989, will become all too well acquainted with the power of poison ivy or one of its near relatives—poison oak and poison sumac. Sometime within the next six to 96 hours, you're likely to find yourself agonized by an itching, watering rash on your back, neck, face, arms, legs and, um, elsewhere. If you're lucky, the rash will heal after a week or two—or maybe three.

Recognizing Poison Ivy and Poison Oak

Having read the preceding scenario, you might be thinking, "Nah, that's not me. I know what poison ivy looks like. I wouldn't go pulling up handfuls of the stuff."Or maybe you're one of those who are still saying, "Nah, that's not me; I'm immune. I can wade through the stuff."

Don't be so sure on either count. Please.

8/18/2015 5:23:10 AM

I am highly allergic to poison ivy. Here is something that has worked for me to get the poison ivy oil off my skin before I have any symptoms. When I come in from working in the yard, I take a luke warm shower using Dawn (the original blue dish soap) starting with my hands first, then my hair, head, and on down my body. The Dawn rinses the oil away. When your poison ivy spreads, I have always heard that it is because you are scratching and moving the oil around to a new place on your skin. With that in mind, I think this tip would also help someone who already has the rash. Hope this helps someone.

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