Poison Ivy (cont.)

Medical Author:
Medical Editor:

What are complications for poison ivy, oak, and sumac dermatitis?

Serious complications from poison ivy, oak, and sumac dermatitis are rare. The most common complication is the development of bacterial infections at the site of the rash due to breaks in the skin caused by repeated scratching. Bacterial infections of the skin may require antibiotic treatment and in rare cases may spread to other areas of the body.

Again, in rare situations, the eyes, airway, and lungs may be affected if exposed to smoke from burning plants.

What is the prognosis (outlook) for poison ivy, oak, and sumac dermatitis?

The prognosis for poison ivy, oak, and sumac dermatitis is generally excellent, with the majority of infections clearing on their own completely within two weeks.

How can contact with poison ivy, oak, and sumac be prevented?

Poison ivy and its relatives are often hidden among other vegetation. Even if you know exactly what they look like, it is very hard to avoid coming in contact with them. Although wearing long pants and long sleeves in warm weather may be uncomfortable, it is important to do so when you might be in contact with plants you can't see, whether you are gardening in the backyard or hiking in the woods. So-called "barrier creams" may help a bit but are not very effective.

When pulling up weeds, those who may be allergic should make sure to tuck sleeves into gloves at all times, since sleeves tend to ride up the forearms and leave wrists and forearms exposed. Vinyl gloves do not absorb urushiol well and are, therefore, more effective for prevention than fabric or leather gloves.

If you think you may have been exposed to poison ivy, wash the skin with cool water as soon as possible. After half an hour, however, this is no longer likely to prevent the reaction. As discussed above, washing pets and clothing may also be of limited help.

Attempts to desensitize people by immunotherapy (giving them poison ivy by mouth or by injection) were tried in the past but proved to be ineffective and potentially dangerous.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/5/2014

Patient Comments

Viewers share their comments

Poison Ivy - Signs and Symptoms Question: What signs and symptoms did you experience from poison ivy, poison oak and, poison sumac.
Poison Ivy - Treatment Question: What treatment did you receive for poison ivy, oak, or sumac?