The most commonly encountered poisonous plants are poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac. These plants commonly cause an allergic skin reaction. The result is most often an itchy, red rash with bumps or blisters. Only in extremely rare cases will a person suffering from exposure to these plants need hospitalization.
This is one of the most frequent causes of skin rash among children and adults who spend time outdoors. The plant has three shiny green leaves and a red stem.
Poison ivy typically grows in the form of a vine, often along riverbanks. It can be found throughout much of the United States.
This plant grows in the form of a shrub and has three leaves similar to poison ivy. Poison oak is mostly found on the West Coast.
This plant grows as a woody shrub. Each stem contains 7 to 13 leaves arranged in pairs. Poison sumac grows abundantly along the Mississippi River.
After contact with these poisonous plants, the rash does not spread by the fluid from the blisters. Therefore, once a person has washed the oil off the skin, the rash does not often spread from person to person. The plant oils may remain for a long time on clothing, pets, tools, shoes, and other surfaces. Contact with these items can cause rashes in the future if they are not cleaned well.
- Extreme itching
- Red, streaky, patchy rash where the plant touched the skin
- Red bumps, which may form large, weeping blisters
The reaction can vary from mild to severe. In rare cases, the person with the rash needs to be treated in the hospital. The worst symptoms are often seen during days 4 to 7 after coming in contact with the plant. The rash may last for 1 to 3 weeks.
- Wash the skin thoroughly with soap and warm water. Because the plant oil enters skin quickly, try to wash it off within 30 minutes.
- Scrub under the fingernails with a brush to prevent the plant oil from spreading to other parts of the body.
- Wash clothing and shoes with soap and hot water. The plant oils can linger on them.
- Immediately bathe animals to remove the oils from their fur.
- Body heat and sweating can aggravate the itching. Stay cool and apply cool compresses to your skin.
- Calamine lotion and hydrocortisone cream can be applied to the skin to reduce itching and blistering.
- Bathing in lukewarm water with an oatmeal bath product, available in drugstores, may soothe itchy skin. Aluminum acetate (Domeboro solution) soaks can help to dry the rash and reduce itching.
- If creams, lotions, or bathing do not stop the itching, antihistamines may be helpful.
- In severe cases, especially for a rash around the face or genitals, the health care provider may prescribe steroids, taken by mouth or given by injection.
- Wash tools and other objects with a dilute bleach solution or rubbing alcohol.
We also offer a free certificate of completion. To receive the certificate you must pass a 50-question test with a score of 70 or higher. Check our Basic First Aid Certificate of Completion page for more information.