Poison Ivy (Oak or Sumac)

Main Symptoms

  • Localized redness, swelling, and weeping blisters
  • Located on exposed body surfaces (such as the hands) or areas touched by the hands (e.g. the face or genitals)
  • Extreme itchiness
  • Onset 1 or 2 days after the patient was in a forest or field
  • Shaped like streaks or lines
  • Caused by oil from poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac plants
  • It is possible for a pet to spread the oil if the pet is exposed to it

See More Appropriate Topic

Call Your Doctor Now (night or day) If

  • Your child looks or acts very sick
  • Difficulty breathing or severe coughing following exposure to burning weeds.
  • Looks infected (e.g. soft yellow scabs, pus or spreading redness)

Call Your Doctor Within 24 Hours (between 9 and 4) If

  • You think your child needs to be seen
  • Swelling is severe (e.g. the eyes are swollen shut).
  • Severe poison ivy reaction in the past
  • Rash involves more than one fourth of the body
  • Face, eyes, lips or genitals are involved
  • Severe itching (e.g. can’t sleep)
  • Big blisters or oozing sores

Call Your Doctor During Weekday Office Hours If

  • You have other questions or concerns

Parent Care at Home If

  • Mild poison ivy or sumac and you don’t think your child needs to be seen

Home Care Advice for Mild Poison Ivy

  1. Steroid Cream: Apply 1% hydrocortisone cream 4 times per day to reduce itching. Keep the cream in the refrigerator (Reason: it feels better if applied cold)
  2. Local Cold: Soak the involved area in cool water for 20 minutes or massage it with an ice cube as often as necessary to reduce itching and oozing.
  3. Antihistamines: If itching persists, give Benadryl orally every 6 hours as needed. (See Dosage table)
  4. Avoid Scratching: Cut the fingernails short and discourage scratching to prevent a secondary infection from bacteria.
  5. More Poison Ivy: If new blisters occur several days after the first ones, your child probably has ongoing contact with poison ivy oil. To prevent recurrences bathe all dogs and wash all clothes and shoes that were with your child on the day of exposure.
  6. Contagiousness: Poison ivy or oak is not contagious to others.
  7. Expected Course: Usually lasts 2 weeks. Treatment reduces the severity, not the length.
  8. Call Your Doctor If
    • Poison ivy lasts > 3 weeks
    • It looks infected
    • Your child becomes worse or develops any of the “Call Your Doctor Now” symptoms