Home Remedies for Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac Rashes You Should Know

Poison ivy on hiking trail

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Whether pulling weeds from the garden, taking your dog for a walk, or hiking, you may run into poison ivy. Poison ivy grows throughout the United States and may appear as vines or shrubs. Poison ivy isn't the only plant that can cause skin reactions, others include poison sumac and poison oak.

About 85% of people are allergic to poison ivy. So what happens if you come into contact with this plant? You'll likely get a very annoying rash. It could stick with you for days or a couple of weeks, forcing you to search for any relief you can get.

Here's what you need to know about poison ivy, including its cause, home remedies, and when to seek medical care.


How You Get a Poison Ivy Rash

Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac all irritate the skin through a plant oil (urushiol oil) found in the sap of these plants.

Though a rash can occur when plant oil comes in direct contact with the skin, poison ivy rashes can also occur indirectly if the plant oil comes into contact with clothes, pets, or gardening tools.

That urushiol oil can stick around on any surface it touches for several years. That's why it's essential to wash off your body or anything else it comes into contact with, said Melissa Piliang, MD, a dermatologist at the Cleveland Clinic. 

"You want to wash all the exposed areas [and] everything that may have come in contact with it," said Dr. Piliang. 

It's important to note that poison ivy rashes aren't contagious. So, you can't pass it to others or from one part of your body to another by scratching.

Regarding the look of poison ivy rashes specifically, there are ways to distinguish them from other skin conditions, said Deirdre Hooper, MD, co-founder of Audubon Dermatology in New Orleans. There are three telltale signs of a rash, according to Dr. Hooper:

  • Feels itchy
  • Blisters, sometimes with tiny white bumps
  • Appears in a linear formation


There are ways to prevent poison ivy rashes. It's important to know what the plant looks like, keep yourself covered in long-sleeved shirts and pants, and wash any clothing or objects that may have come into contact with the plant.



Nothing is ever wholly preventable, and you may still have a poison ivy rash if you're outdoors. Here are a few home remedies that can help.

Plant oil can linger on any surface—even skin—for a long time, so you want to wash it off ASAP with soap and cool water. The sooner you do that, the better. The longer it's on your skin, the greater the chance the plant oil can spread to other body parts.

You'll also want to thoroughly clean any clothing, tools, or even pets that come into contact with poison ivy to prevent further contamination.

Whatever You Do, Don't Scratch

If your child is the one with the rash, this might be the hardest treatment to enforce. Though you can't spread poison ivy rashes to other parts of the body through scratching—as long as you've rinsed the plant oil from your skin—you should still avoid scratching.  Scratching any blisters caused by a poison ivy rash can open bacteria from your fingernails to seep into your skin and cause an infection.

Cool the Itch

Applying a cool compress to the affected area or soaking in a cool bath can help calm down the itching.

Another option, according to Dr. Piliang, is to try an oatmeal bath (blending some dry oats into a fine powder and adding it to a tub of warm water). Additionally, aluminum acetate can act as an astringent to help relieve pain and itching from the rash.

Try Cortisone Cream or Calamine Lotion

You've probably heard of using calamine lotion for itching before. Calamine lotion can help dry up any oozing you may be experiencing.

Over-the-counter (OTC) cortisone creams that are available from most drug stores and groceries, can help tame the rash a bit as well, said Dr. Hopper. Some healthcare providers may prescribe stronger topical corticosteroid creams, particularly if the rash is caught early.

Opt for Oral Antihistamines

Do you know those medications you take when your allergies are acting up? OTC medications like Benadryl (diphenhydramine) or Claritin (loratadine), may also help relieve the itch, said Dr. Piliang. However, the residual itch can remain because antihistamines won't fully treat the allergic contact dermatitis caused by poison ivy.

But be careful here: You want to avoid applying topical antihistamine cream to the rash since that can make it worse.

When To Seek Medical Care

While you might be able to relieve your symptoms at home, certain scenarios should prompt a trip to your healthcare provider. 

If your rash is small and confined to, say, your arm, you might be able to treat it with cortisone cream and train yourself not to scratch it. Still, suppose it's all over your body. In that case, Dr. Hooper said you might want to see a dermatologist who can prescribe prescription corticosteroids, which might work better in treating your rash.

And if you're scratching so much that you're worried about scarring or breaking the skin, which can lead to infection, you shouldn't hesitate to see a dermatologist, according to Dr. Hopper.

If your genitals are affected by poison ivy, you should see a specialist. Dr. Piliang added that it happens if you accidentally use a poison ivy leaf as toilet paper when going to the bathroom in the woods. While the rash might not put you in immediate danger, the itchiness might be too much to bear. 

"Then you really have to go see [a dermatologist]," Dr. Piliang said. "It's very itchy—maybe drive-you-nuts kind of itchy."

Lastly, you should see a healthcare provider if you think you've ingested or inhaled the urushiol oil. 

"If somebody burns [poison ivy], that oil can become aerosolized, and you can inhale it," Dr. Piliang said, explaining that this can cause swelling in the mouth. 

Any type of swelling—not just swelling in the mouth—should probably prompt a trip to your healthcare provider, per Dr. Hooper.

Dr. Hopper recommended seeing a dermatologist if you can since they're better equipped to recognize and treat a poison ivy rash, which can look like shingles to the untrained eye. 

Plus, you don't necessarily even have to leave your house. Dr. Hooper added that if you ever need to see a dermatologist quickly, you should try searching "teledermatology near me" for help.

A Quick Review

Poison ivy can cause an annoying and itchy rash that lasts several days or weeks. As irritating as it can be, it's usually not a medical emergency, and you can treat it from home. Oatmeal baths, cool compresses, calamine lotion, or oral antihistamines can help soothe the itching.

If you think you may have ingested or inhaled poison ivy—which can happen if the plant was burned—or if the rash has spread to sensitive areas in your body (including your genitals), then you may want to consider seeking medical help.

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3 Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Skin Association. Poison ivy, sumac and oak.

  2. Food & Drug Administration. Outsmarting poison ivy and other poisonous plants.

  3. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Poison ivy, oak, and sumac: How to treat the rash.

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