Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac are plants that are found throughout North America. Leaves, stems, roots and berries of all of these plants cause the same type of skin rash. More than 50% of people are sensitive to the oil of these plants.
The rash is extremely itchy and can have streaks or patches of redness and blisters on exposed body surfaces (such as the hands). The rash appears 1 or 2 days after your child has been exposed to the plant in a forest or field.
The rash usually lasts 2 weeks. Treatment helps the symptoms but does not cure the rash.
If you think your child has had contact with one of these plants, wash the exposed areas of skin with any available soap for 5 minutes. Take special care to clean under the fingernails. Do this as soon as possible because after 1 hour it is too late to prevent the oil from absorbing into the skin.
Wash contaminated clothing separately several times before your child wears it again. This makes sure that all traces of oil are removed.
Soak the area with the rash in cold water or massage it with an ice cube for 20 minutes as often as necessary. Let it air dry after the soaking or massage. This will reduce itching and oozing.
If applied early, a steroid cream can reduce the itching. Buy some nonprescription 1% hydrocortisone cream. Apply it 3 times per day.
The sores should be dried up and no longer itchy in 10 to 14 days. In the meantime, cut your child's fingernails short and encourage him not to scratch himself.
Severe or widespread poison ivy requires oral steroids to bring it under control. Give the medicine as prescribed by your child's doctor.
If itching persists, give Benadryl orally (no prescription needed) every 6 hours as needed.
The fluid from the sores themselves cannot cause a rash. However, oil or sap from the poisonous plant may remain on a pet's fur or on clothes or shoes. This oil or sap can cause a rash for about a week. Be sure to wash it off clothes or pets with soap and water.
Poison sumac has 7 to 13 leaves per stem, grows in swamps in the southeast U.S., and is harder to recognize.
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