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Poison Ivy and Poison Oak

Poison oak, it’s no joke:

Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac all produce the same plant oil called urushiol.  It is this oil that can cause an allergic skin response.

These plants can be anywhere, so look out for those leaves of three, and just let them be.  But don’t fret, because poison ivy is not contagious.  If a person brushes up against the plant, the leaves of the plant will release the oils onto the skin.  If you touch other areas of your skin while the oil is present, it will spread the plant oil.  And, if during this time a child has plant oil on their skin and hugs or comes into contact with another family member it will pass from one to another.  However, after the child has had a bath, the plant oil will no longer be of concern.  Approximately one to four days later, a streaky raised red rash appears where this plant oil touched the skin.  This is a localized allergic reaction.  It can last for up to 1-2 weeks and can be very itchy.


You can treat with 1% hydrocortisone cream and an oral antihistamine by mouth (such as diphenhydramine-Benadryl or cetrizine-Zyrtec).

FYI: If your child develops significant swelling-particularly around eyes and/or genitals, it’s time to book an appointment. Your healthcare provider can determine if a prescription product is needed to relieve the symptoms.


Learn to identify what these plants look like and avoid them.

If you are in an area where there are poison oak plants, where long sleeves and long pants.

-Julia Smith, RN, ARNP

Not sure if your child needs to see a doctor? 

Use the AAP Symptom Checker.