Should Your Child See a Doctor?
Poison Ivy, Poison Oak or Poison Sumac
- A very itchy, blistering rash caused by contact with the poison ivy plant
- 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
- 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
- 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).
- 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.
- Antihistamines: If itching persists, give Benadryl (no prescription needed) orally every 6 hours as needed (see Dosage table).
- Avoid Scratching: Cut the fingernails short and discourage scratching to prevent a secondary infection from bacteria.
- 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.
- 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.
- Expected Course: Usually lasts 2 weeks. Treatment reduces the severity of symptoms, not how long they last.
- 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.
- Epstein WL, Guin JD, Maibach HI. Poison ivy update. Contemp Pediatr. 2000;17 (4):54-74.
- Hogan PA and Weston WL. Persistent symptoms: An itch that won't go away. Contemp Pediatr. 1992;9 (7):100.
- Tunnessen WW. Poison ivy, oak, and sumac: The three witches of summer. Contemp Pediatr. 1985;2:24-31.
- Weston WL and Weston JA Allergic contact dermatitis in children. Am J Dis Child. 1984;38:932-936.
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.
Copyright 1994-2015 Barton D. Schmitt, MD. All rights reserved.