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Poison ivy type plants: Plants That Can Cause a Rash


Know Your Poison Ivy, Oak and Sumac

Whether you’re walking a trail in the woods, trimming brush in your backyard, or pitching a tent in one of Oklahoma’s best campgrounds, you may come across poison ivy this summer – and before you know it, you might be sporting a red, itchy rash. Poison ivy is the most common allergic reaction in the U.S. and affects as many as 50 million Americans each year.

The best way to avoid poison ivy is to recognize it when you see it. This poison vine can be hard to spot because it not only climbs trees, it can also grow on the ground and can blend in with normal foliage. Here’s how to identify poison ivy, oak and sumac so you can avoid all of them! 

How to identify poison ivy

The poisonous part of poison ivy is actually an oil called urushiol found inside the plant. It can become exposed on any plant that has been damaged, bruised, cut or crushed. Even the smallest amount of damage to the plant, such as walking through a patch, can cause the oil to seep out.

A good rule of thumb is to remember the famous saying, “Leaflets of three, let it be.” Poison ivy leaves are compound leaves, meaning each leaf is composed of three leaflets. In each set of leaflets, the middle leaflet has a longer stem than the two side leaflets. Often, a poison ivy leaf has a reddish stem, and the leaflets follow a distinctive, alternating pattern. 

Be sure and check the vine. Thick, hairy vines are a hallmark of poison ivy plants.

Finally, look for berries. Poison ivy vines will sprout small, opaque, white or yellowish berries that look like tiny pumpkins.

Poison ivy look-alikes

These look-alikes are often mistaken for poison ivy, but there are notable differences.

Virginia creeper – Virginia creeper ivy is a well-known poison ivy look-alike. While both plants are vines, they can be distinguished by their leaves. Poison ivy has three leaflets while Virginia creeper has five.

Virginia creeper vines are thick like poison ivy vines, but will be covered in light-colored tendrils rather than rough hair. The berries of a Virginia creeper are blue-black, not opaque white or yellowish like poison ivy berries.

Boxelder – Boxelder is in the maple family. Young seedlings of the boxelder tree superficially resemble poison ivy, with three leaflets, but boxelder seedlings grow to become leaves with three to seven leaflets. Also, boxelder leaflets are arranged on the stem opposite from each other, not alternatively like poison ivy.

Boxelder has yellow fall color, lacks the hairy aerial rootlets of poison ivy and does not have berries.

Other poisonous plants in Oklahoma

Unfortunately, besides poison ivy, you can also find poison oak and poison sumac plants in areas of Oklahoma.

  • In most of the state, you will find eastern poison ivy, as it’s the most common.
  • In eastern Oklahoma, Atlantic poison oak is commonly found.
  • Poison sumac is only found at the very edge of the southeastern border of Oklahoma.

Feeling a little confused about the three? Here’s the difference:

Poison ivy – This vine is found on the ground, climbing on trees, fences, and walls, and can also be found in small shrubs. Poison ivy always comes with three leaves and never has thorns or sharp or scalloped edges.

Poison oak – Poison oak is not as common as poison ivy in Oklahoma. However, it is hard to tell the difference between the two and most people use the term ivy and oak interchangeably.

Poison sumac – You may only run into poison sumac if you are traveling south. Poison sumac looks a lot different than poison ivy, as its only form is a small tree. Poison sumac thrives in wetland areas. 

How to treat poison ivy

The itchy rash caused by poison ivy often does not appear until 12 to 72 hours after you’ve been exposed to the oil.

If you break out into a serious rash or if you experience swelling or blistering with the rash, it’s best to visit your health care provider right away.


If your rash is minor, here are some tips from the American Academy of Dermatology.

  • Wash the affected areas with soapy, lukewarm water.
  • Place cool, wet compresses on the affected area for 15 to 30 minutes several times a day.
  • Soak in a cool-water bath containing an oatmeal-based bath product such as Aveeno.
  • Apply an over-the-counter corticosteroid cream for the first few days.
  • Apply calamine lotion.
  • Take oral antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl, others), which may also help you sleep better.
  • Wash any belongings that might have come into contact with the ivy to prevent further outbreaks.

Hopefully, you can help share your new knowledge of poison ivy in Oklahoma and save someone you love from an itchy, uncomfortable rash. Want more Oklahoma outdoor tips? Read our articles about Snakes in Oklahoma and Hiking Safety Tips to Enjoy the Great Outdoors.

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Poison Oak, Treatment, Symptoms, Relief, Prevention

What is poison ivy?

Poison ivy is a common poisonous plant that causes an itchy skin rash. Other rash-inducing poisonous plants include poison oak and poison sumac. These plants produce an oily sap called urushiol that brings on an irritating, itchy allergic reaction. When you touch a poisonous plant or an object that’s been in contact with a plant, you develop an itchy rash. This rash is a form of allergic contact dermatitis.

How common is a poison ivy rash?

Up to 90% of people who come into contact with poison ivy oil develop an itchy rash. You don’t have to be exposed to much: 50 micrograms of urushiol — an amount smaller than a grain of salt — is enough to cause a reaction.

Who might get a poison ivy rash?

Nearly everyone who touches urushiol gets a poison ivy rash. You’re more likely to come into contact with a poisonous plant if you have one of these jobs or hobbies:

  • Camper or hiker.
  • Farmer or gardener.
  • Groundskeeper or landscaper.
  • Forestry worker.
  • Forest firefighter.
  • House painter.
  • Roofer.

What do poisonous plants look like?

Poisonous plants grow all over the continental United States. Each type has a distinctive appearance:

  • Poison ivy: Poison ivy is most known for its leaves. Each leaf has three leaflets. A popular saying is, “Leaves of three, let them be.” Poison ivy grows as a shrub and a vine. Its summer-green leaves turn reddish in the spring and yellow, orange or red in the fall. A poison ivy shrub may have white berries.
  • Poison oak: The leaves have three leaflets like poison ivy, but with rounded tips. The leaves’ undersides are fuzzy and lighter in color than the top. Poison oak grows as a shrub. It’s most common in the western United States. The shrub sometimes has white or yellow berries.
  • Poison sumac: This tall shrub or small tree has drooping clusters of green berries. (Nonpoisonous sumacs have red, upright berries. Contact with nonpoisonous sumacs won’t cause an allergic rash.) Each leaf has clusters of seven to 13 smooth leaflets arranged in pairs. Poison sumac thrives in wet, swampy regions.

What causes a poison ivy rash?

Poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac produce an oil called urushiol. Almost everyone is allergic to this oil. When your skin touches the oil, an allergic reaction occurs. The itchy rash that develops is a type of allergic contact dermatitis.

What are the symptoms of a poison ivy rash?

Urushiol oil causes the same allergic reaction — an itchy skin rash — no matter what poisonous plant you touch. Depending on your skin’s sensitivity, a rash may develop within a few hours or days after initial contact. Symptoms include:

  • Blisters.
  • Itchy skin rash.
  • Redness and swelling.

How is a poison ivy rash diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will look at the rash, assess your symptoms and ask questions to determine if you could have encountered a poisonous plant. Other allergens and irritants besides poisonous plants can cause contact dermatitis or an itchy rash. If you haven’t been outdoors or in contact with plants, your healthcare provider will want to rule out other skin conditions or causes.

How is a poison ivy rash managed or treated?

Rashes from poisonous plants usually go away within a week or two. In the meantime, these over-the-counter medications can relieve the itchy rash:

  • Anti-itch creams, including calamine lotion (Caladryl®) and hydrocortisone creams (Cortizone®).
  • Antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl®).
  • Colloidal oatmeal baths (Aveeno®) and cold compresses to soothe itching.

Your healthcare provider may prescribe an oral steroid, such as prednisone, if the rash becomes more severe or the rash forms on the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose, mouth or genitals.

What are the complications of poison ivy exposure?

Some situations increase your risk of problems if you’re exposed to poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac. These factors include:

  • Inhaling smoke: When poisonous plants burn, they release urushiol into the air. You may develop a rash inside of your nasal passages, mouth and throat from inhaling the smoke. Oil in the air also affects the lungs and can cause serious breathing problems.
  • Scratching: It’s hard not to scratch this itchy rash. But you can get an infection if you scratch until skin bleeds. Bacteria from under your fingernails can get inside any open wound.

Can a poison ivy rash spread to other parts of the body?

No. It might look like a rash is spreading, but you’re actually developing new rashes on areas of skin that came into contact with urushiol oil. You might have touched a plant in some areas and not even realized it — for example, if a backpack strap brushed against plants and then touched your bare shoulder. Some rashes take longer to develop. The extent of the rash depends on your skin sensitivity and how much oil you touched.

Is a poison ivy rash contagious?

You can’t get a poison ivy rash by touching another person’s rash. But you could develop a rash if you touch the oil on another person’s body or clothes. You can also come in contact with the oil by touching your pet’s fur or a contaminated item like a gardening tool or camping gear.

How can I prevent a poison ivy rash?

The best way to avoid developing this itchy rash is by learning what poisonous plants look like so you can avoid them.

If you think you’ve come in contact with a poisonous plant, you can:

  • Apply isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol to exposed body parts, gardening tools or other contaminated items to strip away the oil.
  • Scrub under your fingernails with a brush.
  • Use dishwashing soap and cool water to wash hands that have touched a poisonous plant.
  • Wash clothes after being outdoors.
  • Wear long sleeves, pants and gloves when doing yard work, gardening, farming or hiking.
  • Wear rubber gloves while bathing pets that have been in contact with poisonous plants.

What is the prognosis (outlook) for people with a poison ivy rash?

Most poison plant rashes cause mild (but annoying) symptoms that go away within a week or two. Rarely, a skin rash lasts for longer than a month. Try not to scratch. Scratching can break open skin and cause an infection.

When should I call the doctor?

Reach out to your healthcare provider if you have a poison plant rash and you experience:

  • Rash covering more than a quarter of your body.
  • Rash on the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose, mouth or genitals.
  • Red streaks, fever or other signs of infection.
  • Signs of anaphylaxis, including breathing difficulties, hives and swelling.

What questions should I ask my doctor?

If you have a poison plant rash, you may want to ask your healthcare provider:

  • Do I need any testing to confirm the rash is from a poisonous plant?
  • How can I avoid getting this rash again?
  • How can I keep my family members from getting this rash?
  • What treatments can I use to reduce itching?
  • How long will the rash last?
  • Should I look out for signs of complications?

A note from Cleveland Clinic

It’s hard not to scratch an itchy poison ivy rash. Fortunately, most rashes clear up with minimal treatment within a week. Ask your healthcare provider for suggestions to stop the itch. And remember, don’t scratch! You might temporarily feel better, but scratching can introduce bacteria into the skin and cause an infection.

Poison Ivy, Poison Oak and Similar Plant Identification

Published Oct. 2020|Id: HLA-6459

Brooklyn Evans, Pam Sharp, Shelley Mitchell, Justin Quetone Moss

“Leaves of three let it be”. From that rhyme, you would think identifying poison ivy
would be simple, but that isn’t necessarily the case. Knowing how to recognize poison
ivy, oak and sumac can save you from a miserable red itchy rash. All three of these
closely related plants contain an irritating, oily sap called urushiol. Urushiol causes
many people to break out in a rash when it comes in contact with their skin. Being
able to identify these plants is beneficial considering there are many plants that
look similar, but are harmless. This Fact Sheet is to help inform and educate the
general public on how to identify poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac so they
can be avoided.


Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) is located throughout the lower 48 states and grows in a
variety of conditions, although it is most abundant along forest edges and in open
forests with moderate sunlight. In Oklahoma, poison ivy is distributed across most
of the state but is less abundant in the southwest and panhandle areas of the state.
Poison oak (Toxicodendron toxicarium) is mostly in coastal states in the east and
west and not as common in the central region. Poison oak does occur in scattered locations across Oklahoma but is generally less abundant
than poison ivy. Poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix) is mainly found in the eastern and southeastern parts of the
U.S. because it prefers to grow in wet, forested areas. It does not occur in Oklahoma
except for few isolated spots along the Red River.



Figure 1. Poison ivy in the summer. This poison ivy has lobed edge leaflets. Photo courtesy
of David Hillock.









Figure 2. Poison ivy in the autumn. It has smooth-edged leaflets. Photo courtesy of www.poison-ivy.org



Poison ivy leaves are compound and consists of three individual leaflets (Figure 1).
The leaves can vary from smooth to being lobed (looking like a pair of mittens) or
toothed (pointed). Poison oak leaves are usually in clusters of three leaflets. Its
leaves are lobed or deeply toothed, with rounder edges (Figure 3). Just as leaf shape
varies, so do the colors of leaves on each plant. Poison ivy leaves start out a shiny
green in the spring and become a dull green during the summer. In the autumn, poison
ivy leaves turn yellow or scarlet (Figure 2). Poison oak is green throughout the spring
and summer and become yellow with brown undertones in the fall (Figure 4).


Figure 3. Poison oak in the spring/summer with lobed edge leaflets. Photo courtesy of Bailey Lockhart



 Figure 4. Poison oak in the autumn. Photo credit Linda Tanner Flickr



Flowers of poison ivy and oak are greenish yellow appearing in panicles from the leaf
axils on the stem. Fruit of poison ivy and oak are grayish-white to creamy white and
have ridges that make it look like a tiny pumpkin.


There are many common plants people confuse with poison ivy and poison oak. The common
ones in Oklahoma are Virginia creeper, fragrant sumac, skunkbush sumac and boxelder.


Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) leaves are compound and contain five leaflets, (Figure
5) though leaves with three leaflets can sometimes be present. Virginia creeper looks
like it is giving you a “high five” so it is easier to identify amongst the similar-looking
plants. Each leaflet has toothed (pointed) edges, which is makes it look more similar
to poison ivy than poison oak or sumac. Furthermore, Virginia creeper, like poison
ivy is red when it first emerges, but then turn green as it matures. During the autumn,
it turns back to red or maroon color. It can cause a mild rash in some individuals,
but usually not like the rash that poison ivy/oak causes.


Figure 5. Virginia creeper has toothed edge leaflets. Photo courtesy of Randy Evans



Fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica) has trifoliate-toothed leaves that are a green-blue shade (Figure
6). During the autumn, the leaf color changes to shades of red and purple. Fragrant
sumac, unlike poison oak, produces red, hairy fruits (Figure 7) on female plants;
this is a good identifying clue. Poison ivy and oak have whitish or yellowish berries.
Sumac also tends to form dense compact mottes (grove of trees) rather than having
the more open structure of poison oak.


Figure 6. Fragrant Sumac has toothed edge leaflets. Photo courtesy of David Hillock


Figure 7. Fragrant sumac with berries. It has tooth-edged leaflets. Photo courtesy of David Hillock



Skunkbush sumac (Rhus trilobata) looks very similar to fragrant sumac. Leaves are compound and the
leaflets are waxy and soft-textured, and grow in groups of three (Figure 8). The leaves
are green during the summer and spring, then turn a bright red or orange during the
autumn. The fruit of skunkbush also are red to orange and hairy, which distinguishes
sumacs from poison ivy and oak, which has whitish or yellowish berries.


 Figure 8. Skunkbush sumac has lobed edge leaflets. Photo courtesy of Patrick J. Alexander,
hosted by the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database



Boxelder (Acer negundo) leaves are compound and consists of three to five toothed leaflets
(Figure 9). The leaves are in opposite pairs and are light green in the summer with
little color variation in the fall. Young boxelder can be mistaken for poison ivy,
but the difference between the two is that boxelder leaves are opposite, while poison
ivy leaves are alternating.


Figure 9. Boxelder has toothed edge leaves. Photo courtesy of Randy Evans




There are several different methods to control poison ivy, oak and sumac. Lawnmowers
or weed eaters can remove the aboveground portion of the plant, but this is not a
permanent solution as they will resprout from the root. The urushiol oil from the
plants will likely adhere to equipment and clothing. Keep in mind the proper attire
that should be worn with potential exposure to the urushiol oil. This includes eye
protection, gloves, long pants and long sleeves. For smaller gardens or flower beds,
hand pulling works but it is best done when the seedling is still small. Be sure to
wear disposable gloves to keep the oils off your skin and note that even the stems
and roots contain the oils. A simple method that limits contact with the plant when
pulling it by hand is using a plastic bag over your hand. With your hand in the bag,
grab the plant and pull it out of the ground; while still holding onto the plant pull
your hand out of the bag; the plant is now in the bag and you never had to touch it.
Poison ivy will grow up into trees and the stem can be cut at ground level with a
hatchet or saw. Herbicides are the only effective way to permanently kill poison ivy
or oak. Several herbicides are effective: Glyphosate and triclopyr are two of the
more common effective herbicides. Both can be applied as foliar application to actively
growing plants. Alternatively, the cut stem can be treated anytime during the year
except early spring during sap flow. Following herbicide directions precisely is critical
to ensure the safety of yourself and other plants surrounding the poison ivy. Hiring
a professional can give you peace of mind and is always an option if you do not feel
comfortable handling the herbicides yourself. Burning poison ivy or oak is not recommend
because the urushiol oil is still active in smoke and can cause severe eye, nose and
lung irritation if breathed.


If you come in contact with any poison ivy, oak or sumac, steps can be taken to help
control or even prevent the spreading of the developing rash. Consult a physician
first and follow their professional advice if you get a rash.


To help prevent a reaction, immediately wash the skin where urushiol oil is suspected.
Use rubbing alcohol, dishwashing liquid or a special soap made for use after contact
with poison ivy or oak. Do not scrub the area when washing, because that can cause
the oil to spread further onto more skin. Rinse thoroughly with cool water. The itchy
rash can be relieved by using topical lotions and creams such as hydrocortisone or
calamine lotions. Cool compresses can help to reduce itching and inflammation.




  • Brown, Diane. “Identifying poison ivy isn’t always easy to do.” Fact Sheet. Michigan State University. East Lansing, MI, 26 July. 2016. Web. 5 Jun.
  • “Home Grown Facts.” Fact Sheet. Cornell Cooperative Extension of Oneida County. Oriskany,
    NY. n.d. Web. 10 Jun. 2020
  • Beaulieu, David. “Poison Ivy Plant Profile, Toxicity and Special Consideration.” Fact Sheet. 30 Jan. 2020.
  • Lerner, B. Rosie. Legleiter.Travis. “Poison Ivy.” HO-218-W. Consumer Horticulture,
    Purdue Extension. Oct. 2015. Web. 18 Jun. 2020
  • “Poison Ivy: An Identification and Control Guide”, Chuck Otte and Kansas State University.
    1 Jan. 2020. Web. 21 Jun. 2020 
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Recognizing Poison Ivy, Oak and Sumac

The old saying goes: “Leaves of three, let them be.” Poison ivy, oak and sumac are three plants that carry the same poison — urushiol , a colorless, odorless oil that causes an itchy, irritating rash. While they differ in appearance, all of the plants grow white, cream or yellow berries in the fall.

Here is how you can tell the plants apart:

Poison ivy (A) usually has three broad, tear-shaped leaves. It can grow as a climbing or low-spreading vine that sprawls through grass. It is found everywhere in the United States except Alaska and Hawaii. It often grows along rivers, lake fronts and ocean beaches.

Poison oak (B) has leaves that look like oak leaves and grows as a vine or a shrub. The plant can have three or more leaflets per group. It is most common in the western United States.

Poison sumac (C) has seven to 13 leaflets per stem that are characterized by smooth surfaces and pointed tips. It is most often found in wooded, moist areas of the southern United States.


You can develop a rash by touching poison ivy, oak or sumac — and by transfer of the oil from someone or something (such as a dog or clothes) that has come in contact with the poison. The rash is very itchy and uncomfortable, but it is not contagious. Touching the skin of an affected individual will not cause you to get the rash, as long as the oil has been washed off.

The body’s allergic response to the plant toxins may not be apparent for several days and differs in severity from person to person. The skin will become red and swollen, and then blisters will appear. After a few days, the blisters will become crusty and start to flake off. Healing time is anywhere between one and two weeks.


After contact with poison ivy, oak or sumac, immediately wash the exposed areas thoroughly with soap and water. Initially, hosing off outside or showering is preferred over a bath to minimize contact of the oil with other parts of the body.

It is very important to wash all clothes and shoes immediately after exposure because the oils can remain on them and cause reinfection.

If a rash develops, there are several things you can try to relieve the itching:

  • Take a bath with colloidal oatmeal. Colloidal oatmeal is oatmeal ground to a powder so that it can evenly disperse in water. You can buy it from the drug store or make your own by grinding up dry oatmeal in a blender.
  • Wet a washcloth with warm water and place it on the affected area.
  • Apply calamine lotion to the affected area.
  • Consider a steroid cream (hydrocortisone) if itching persists. Be careful not to get it in your child’s eyes and mouth.
  • Consider oral antihistamines (diphenhydramine), especially if itching interferes with sleep. Consult your pediatrician if dosing is not listed on the package for your child’s age/weight.

It’s important to try to keep the itching under control because lots of scratching can increase damage to the skin and increase your child’s risk of developing a skin infection.

Call your doctor if your child has a rash on the eyes, mouth or genitals. Seek immediate medical attention for severe reactions, especially those resulting in swollen eyes or face and/or difficulty swallowing or breathing. Your child may need oral or intravenous steroids (prednisone) and possibly a medication (epinephrine) to treat severe allergic reactions.

Most allergic reactions will clear up in 14 to 21 days. However, if the symptoms persist or worsen, contact your child’s pediatrician for further treatment.


  • Avoid areas where you know the plants live.
  • Wear long sleeves and long pants if exploring wooded areas where you might find one of the plants.
  • Show your children pictures of the plants so they learn what they look like.
  • Let your children know that they should avoid touching the plants.
  • Don’t burn the plants – urushiol can be released in the air and can cause breathing problems in addition to skin reactions.

Visit The Poison Control Center’s website to learn more about poison ivy, oak and sumac, and other plants that irritate.

Poison Ivy Rash in Children

What is poison ivy rash?

Poison ivy rash is an allergic reaction to poison ivy. Poison ivy is very common plant in the U.S. It is similar to two other plants called poison oak and poison sumac. The plants cause allergic dermatitis. This means the body’s immune system releases certain chemicals that cause a skin reaction. Most children are allergic to poison ivy.

What causes poison ivy rash in a child?

Poison ivy has oil called urushiol. This oil causes the allergic skin reaction. The oil is easily wiped from the plants to other objects. These include clothes, toys, and pets. Smoke from a burning plant can also contain the oil.

Which children are at risk for poison ivy rash?

Children who live near the plants are at risk for the skin reaction. There are different types of these plants around the country. They are:

  • Poison ivy. This is a ground or climbing vine with leaves grouped in threes in most of the U.S. Another type grows as a shrub in the Western U.S.
  • Poison oak. This is a ground or climbing vine or shrub with leaves grouped in threes. One type grows on the West coast and another type grows mostly in the Southeast.
  • Poison sumac. This is a shrub or small tree with groups of several leaves arranged in pairs. It grows in very wet areas.

What are the symptoms of poison ivy rash in a child?

Your child may have symptoms within hours or days after coming in contact with poison ivy. The symptoms include:

  • Small bumps where the plant oil touched the skin that quickly turn into blisters
  • Severe itching
  • Redness and swelling
  • Blisters that break, ooze fluid, and crust over. The fluid in the blisters doesn’t spread the rash.

The symptoms of poison ivy rash can be like other health conditions. Make sure your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is poison ivy rash diagnosed in a child?

The healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and health history. He or she will give your child a physical exam.

How is poison ivy rash treated in a child?

Your child’s rash may be treated with over-the counter medicines. You can also help ease your child’s symptoms with the following:

  • Bathing your child in water with colloidal oatmeal
  • Applying cool, wet cloths (compresses)
  • Using calamine lotion or corticosteroid cream on the skin
  • Giving your child diphenhydramine liquid by mouth, if itching is making it hard for your child to sleep

Call the healthcare provider if your child:

  • Inhaled smoke from a burning poison ivy plant
  • Has the rash on his or her face
  • Has a severe rash
  • Has a rash on a large part of his or her body

In these cases, your child’s healthcare provider may prescribe a prescription medicine such as:

  • Corticosteroid cream
  • Corticosteroid pills or liquid
  • Corticosteroid shot (injection) 

What are the possible complications of poison ivy rash in a child?

The rash may become infected with bacteria.

What can I do to prevent poison ivy rash in my child?

A poison ivy rash can be prevented by avoiding contact with the plant. Creams containing bentoquatum may be used as a barrier on the skin if contact with the plant is likely. 

The rash can’t spread from one person to another. But oil on your child’s skin can spread to another person who may then get the rash. To help prevent a poison ivy rash:

  • Teach all family members to recognize the plants and stay away from them.
  • Make sure your child wears pants, long sleeves, and shoes and socks when in areas where the plants grow.
  • Wash your child’s clothes and shoes right after he or she has been in areas where the plants grow.
  • Make sure your child doesn’t touch a pet that might have been in contact with the plants. Wash your pet after is has contact with the plant.
  • Make sure your child showers or bathes with soap and warm water if he or she has been in an area where the plants grow.  To remove all plant oil, help your child wash all areas of his or her body very well. 

When should I call my child’s healthcare provider?

Call the healthcare provider if your child has:

  • Symptoms not relieved by over-the-counter medicine
  • Rash on his or her face
  • Severe rash
  • Rash that covers a lot of your child’s body
  • Signs of a skin infection, such as increased redness, warmth, swelling, or fluid

Key points about poison ivy rash in children

  • Poison ivy, oak, and sumac cause an allergic skin reaction. The reaction is caused by oil from the plant.
  • Avoiding contact with the poison ivy plant is the best prevention.
  • Washing the skin after touching the plant can prevent a rash.
  • The fluid from the blisters doesn’t make poison ivy spread. But oil on the skin can cause a rash if wiped on another person.
  • In most cases, poison ivy rash can be treated at home.
  • A poison ivy rash may be treated with soothing products, calamine lotion, or corticosteroids creams, pills, liquids, or injections.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:

  • Know the reason for the visit and what you want to happen.
  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
  • At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you for your child.
  • Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed and how it will help your child. Also know what the side effects are.
  • Ask if your child’s condition can be treated in other ways.
  • Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
  • Know what to expect if your child does not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
  • If your child has a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
  • Know how you can contact your child’s provider after office hours. This is important if your child becomes ill and you have questions or need advice.

Be aware of poison ivy and other rash-producing plants

Itching to get outdoors? Hikers and other outdoor recreationists need to educate themselves about poison ivy and other similar species to avoid developing the classic itchy skin rash associated with these plants.

After a long Michigan winter, many are anxious to get outdoors and enjoy a walk or hike through the fields and forests of Michigan. But as any avid outdoors-person will tell you, there are certain plants (poison ivy and others) that people should avoid touching with their bare skin if they hope to avoid developing the annoying, itchy rash associated with these plants.

While a relatively new invasive plant known as “giant hogweed” (Heracleum mantegazzianum) has recently made the news in Michigan because of the severe reactions that people can have to the sap of this plant,such as skin lesions and potentially long-term blindness, other “poisonous” plants such as poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) are more commonly found. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resource Conservation Service’s PLANTS Database, poison ivy can be found in almost every county of Michigan.

Consequently, if you do not already know the old adage “It if has leaves of three – let it be!” then learn how to identify poison ivy in order to avoid coming in contact with it. For starters, the poison ivy plant has a three-leaflet compound leaf rather than a single or simple leaf. The leaflets are generally 2 to 3 inches long and are yellow-green in color. The upper leaf surfaces of poison ivy also appear shiny in many cases. This “shininess” is actually an oily-type substance on the leaf surface and it is this substance that causes the itchy skin rash and blisters associated with poison ivy.


Poison ivy leaves can take many forms. However, the leaflets of three remain constant, and the space between the two lateral leaflets is reddish. Photos from MSU Extension Bulletin E2946.

In general, poison ivy can be found growing in a number locations ranging from stream banks to roadside ditches and fields to the understory of forests. It is mainly a low growing plant (about 12 inches high or so) that can be found growing in patches. However, poison ivy can also grow as a vine and in this form is often found growing up trunks of trees and shrubs, which can make it harder to identify quickly. Finally, in the fall, poison ivy can produce clusters of small, round, whitish, shiny, wax-like fruits.

In Michigan, there is another plant occasionally encountered in the wild that causes skin rashes and blisters similar to poison ivy. It is called poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix). Poison sumac is a much rarer plant to find in nature and is almost always found in very wet locations. According to the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service’s PLANTS Database, Poison sumac is mostly found growing in southern lower Michigan with only a few scattered locations in the northern portion of the Lower Peninsula. It is not known to be native to the Upper Peninsula.

More information on many of these “poisonous” plants discussed in this article is available from Michigan State University Extension publications E2935 “Giant Hogweed” or E2946 “Poison Ivy.” These publications address the identification, prevention and control of these nuisance plants along with common look-alikes that are easily confused with these species.

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