Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac (cont.)

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What are symptoms and signs of a poison ivy, oak, or sumac rash?

Susceptible people will develop the characteristic rash after exposure to the urushiol from these plants, typically within 12-72 hours after the initial contact. The signs and symptoms can include the following:

  • Redness of the skin
  • Swelling of the skin
  • Itching of the skin
  • An outbreak of small or large blisters

The rash may appear bumpy, streaky, linear or patchy, and it will affect the areas that have come into contact with the oil resin. Areas that have been exposed to a larger amount of urushiol may develop the rash more quickly, and the rash may appear more severe. In some instances, new lesions may continue to appear for up to two to three weeks. One can spread the rash to other parts of the body if one's contaminated hands (with the oil resin) touch other areas. The fluid that sometimes oozes from the blisters does not contain urushiol and therefore does not spread the rash, and other individuals who touch this fluid will not develop the rash. In order to spread the rash to someone else, they must directly come into contact with the oil resin. Generally speaking, the rash slowly improves and disappears after one to three weeks in most individuals. Overall, the symptoms may range from mild to severe. Rarely, in extreme cases, an anaphylactic reaction can develop.

Picture of a poison oak rash
Picture of a poison oak rash; SOURCE: CDC

If these plants are burned, the airborne particles of urushiol can be inhaled, causing respiratory difficulty from irritation of the lungs. Occasionally, this reaction can be severe.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/20/2015

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