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Should Your Child See a Doctor?

Poison Ivy, Poison Oak or Poison Sumac

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 Definition

  • A very itchy, blistering rash caused by contact with the poison ivy plant

Symptoms 

  • Localized redness, swelling, and weeping blisters
  • Located on exposed body surfaces (such as the hands) or areas touched by the hands (e.g., the face or genitals). May be carried by pets.
  • Extreme itchiness
  • Onset 1 or 2 days after the patient was in a forest or field
  • Rash is shaped like streaks or lines

Cause 

  • Caused by oil from poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac plants
  • The oil is found in the leaves, stems, berries and roots of the plant.
  • May be carried by pets.

Return to School 

  • Poison ivy or oak is not contagious to others. No need to miss any school or child care.

When to Call Your Doctor for Poison Ivy - Oak - Sumac

Call Your Doctor Now (night or day) If

  • Your child looks or acts very sick
  • Difficulty breathing or severe coughing following exposure to burning weeds
  • Looks infected (e.g., soft yellow scabs, pus or spreading redness)
 

Call Your Doctor Within 24 Hours (between 9 am and 4 pm) If

  • You think your child needs to be seen
  • Swelling is severe (e.g., the eyes are swollen shut)
  • Severe poison ivy reaction in the past
  • Rash involves more than one fourth of the body
  • Face, eyes, lips or genitals are involved
  • Severe itching (e.g., can't sleep)
  • Big blisters or oozing sores
  • Taking oral steroids for over 24 hours and rash becoming worse
 

Call Your Doctor During Weekday Office Hours If

  • You have other questions or concerns
  • Rash lasts longer than 3 weeks
 

Parent Care at Home If

  • Mild poison ivy or sumac and you don't think your child needs to be seen
 

Home Care for Mild Poison Oak or Ivy

  1. Steroid Cream: Apply 1% hydrocortisone cream (no prescription needed) 4 times per day to reduce itching. Keep the cream in the refrigerator (Reason: It feels better if applied cold).
  2. Local Cold: Soak the involved area in cool water for 20 minutes or massage it with an ice cube as often as necessary to reduce itching and oozing.
  3. Antihistamines: If itching persists, give Benadryl (no prescription needed) orally every 6 hours as needed (see Dosage table).
  4. Avoid Scratching: Cut the fingernails short and discourage scratching to prevent a secondary infection from bacteria.
  5. More Poison Ivy:
    • If new blisters occur several days after the first ones, your child probably has ongoing contact with poison ivy oil.
    • To prevent recurrences, bathe all dogs or other pets.
    • Also, wash all clothes and shoes that were with your child on the day of exposure.
     
  6. Contagiousness:
    • Poison ivy or oak is not contagious to others.
    • The fluid from the blisters or rash cannot cause poison ivy.
    • No need to miss any school or child care.
     
  7. Expected Course: Usually lasts 2 weeks. Treatment reduces the severity of symptoms, not how long they last.
  8. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Poison ivy lasts for over 3 weeks
    • It looks infected
    • Your child becomes worse
     

And remember, contact your doctor if your child develops any of the "When to Call Your Doctor" symptoms.


References

  1. Epstein WL, Guin JD, Maibach HI. Poison ivy update. Contemp Pediatr. 2000;17(4):54-74.
  2. Hogan PA and Weston WL. Persistent symptoms: An itch that won't go away. Contemp Pediatr. 1992;9(7):100.
  3. Tunnessen WW. Poison ivy, oak, and sumac: The three witches of summer. Contemp Pediatr. 1985;2:24-31.
  4. Weston WL and Weston JA Allergic contact dermatitis in children. Am J Dis Child. 1984;38:932-936.

Disclaimer

This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.

Author and Senior Reviewer: Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.

Last Reviewed: 8/1/2010

Last Revised: 10/1/2010 3:44:05 PM

Copyright 1994-2011 Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.

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Summer 2014: Good Growing Newsletter

In This Issue

  • Understanding the Power and Influence of Role Models
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Download Summer 2014 (PDF)