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Hidden Dangers From Poison Oak, Ivy & Sumac Plants

By Wayne McDonald

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, each year 10 to 50 million Americans develop an allergic rash after contact with Poison Oak, Poison Ivy and Poison Sumac Plants. The invisible oily resin called urushiol causes the ill effects of these poisonous plants.

Poison ivy, oak, or sumac is found in every state except Alaska and Hawaii. These plants are important to the eco-systems where they thrive. The small, white or bluish berries found on the ivies feed a number of birds and small animals. The irritants found in urushiol oil do not effect most animals and the tangles from the plants serve as shelter.

This oily resin can stay on pets, shoes, hiking boots, clothes, toys, garden tools, lawn mowers and anything else that has made contact. In fact, the oil stays active on any surface, including dead plants, for up to 5 years.


After making contact, the reaction (called dermatitis) may include a rash followed by bumps and blisters that itch. Scratching does not spread the outbreak but may cause infection because it allows bacteria from dirt on the hands to enter the skin. Symptoms can last ten days to several weeks to heal.

Mild Symptoms

  • Severe redness

  • Signs of infection, such as pus

  • Rash in mouth, eyes, or genital area

  • Rash on a large portion of your body or face

  • Mild symptoms can be treated with simple and natural home remedies. See below.

Severe Symptoms

  • Swelling of the throat, tongue, or lips

  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing

  • Weakness or dizziness

  • Bluish lips and/or mouth

  • Unconsciousness

  • Severe Symptoms need immediate emergency medical care.


NEVER burn poison ivy. Burning these poisonous plants puts the urushiol resin in the air and can get in your lungs and possibly your neighbor's lungs. If you get poison ivy in your lungs, you will need to go to the hospital.

Pet Alert

The only threat to resin on our pets is if it is rubbed off onto other things or people. If your pet merely has the bumps and is itching, you can not catch it from them.


Because urushiol is a oily resin and not a water based fluid, it will not evaporate and it can linger for several years.

Use mild soap and cold or cool water to wash off the resin. Do not use hot water because it opens your skin pores and thus absorb more of the oil.

You may want to apply rubbing alcohol to the affected area(s) with cotton balls, and then rinse again with cold water. You can apply calamine lotion, a zinc oxide ointment, or baking soda paste (3-tsp. soda to 1-tsp. water) to the affected area(s), or soak in an oatmeal bath, to relieve the symptoms somewhat.

Generally, the best treatment is time - the rash and itching should go away on its own in one to two weeks. Try to keep your hands away from your eyes, mouth, and face, and scratch as little as possible, as this will irritate the rash further and may introduce infection.

This article is for general information only and not intended for or to replace any medical advice. Always check with your doctor for treatment of any health condition.

Copyright 2005 Wayne McDonald

About The Author
Wayne McDonald is a health care professional and public speaker for safe natural treatments of annoying and burdensome health challenges.

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