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Poison Ivy and Sumac Rash Prevention and Treatment. By Our July Student Pharmacist, Calvin Chan.

poison ivy rash2

Did you know that almost 85% of people are allergic to poison ivy and it’s two cousins, poison sumac and oak (the last one is not found in Ohio)? I am sure that many of you have either seen or experienced the nasty rashes that are associated with poison ivy. What you may not know is that it is not the actual plants themselves that cause the allergic reaction/rash, but rather a substance produced by them called “urushiol oil.”

The urushiol oil is tenacious–it can stick to your skin, clothes, tools, pets’ fur and spread to pretty much everything it comes into contact with until it is washed off. Even in the winter when the plants have died, the urushiol can still be on them ready to cause unsuspecting visitors some itchy misery. The spread of urushiol is also how people commonly find rashes in places that were never exposed to the plant, because it was unknowingly stuck onto their clothes or other body parts.

So what are the best ways to not only prevent, but also treat poison ivy rashes?

Poison Ivy_Oak_Sumac


The best way to prevent the rashes is to avoid contact in the first place, which can be easy with the following steps:

  1. Learn the plants’ appearances with simple phrases:
    1. “Leaves of three, let it be” – A classic phrase that describes how three leaves will often sprout from a single stem of poison ivy.
    2. “Don’t be a dope and touch the hairy rope” – A useful way to spot the plants in the winter especially since the “hairy”-looking vines will still be present.
    3. “Berries white, run in fright” – For the telltale white berry-like fruits of poison ivy.
    4. “Leaves shaped like mittens will itch like the dickens” – The leaves of the plant will often look like they have a thumb coming off of them
  2. Wear long sleeved shirts and pants when hiking or exploring areas with possible poison ivy.
  3. If you believe you have touched the plants by accident, wash any areas immediately to prevent the urushiol from spreading further.
  4. Remove the plants by pulling them up by the root, using an herbicide or boiling hot water.
    1. DO NOT BURN the plants due to the risk of breathing in the urushiol.
    2. Handle the plants using VINYL GLOVES, because urushiol can penetrate other materials.


If you have a moderate-to-severe rash that covers more than 20-25% of your body, it is highly recommended to seek medical attention. For mild, small rashes there are several great over-the-counter options:

Chan Chrat

I hope this has been helpful in allowing you to navigate and work in the outdoors a little more safely this summer. As always, if you ever have any more questions, your local pharmacist at Plain City Druggist will always be willing to help!


Pharmacist’s Letter

American Academy of Dermatology

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