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Posts Tagged ‘Tecnu’

Recognizing “Rash” Behavior: What You Need to Know About Poison Ivy and Poison Sumac. By Our July Student Pharmacist, Rich Downs.


The weather lately may make you think differently, but summer is the time to be outside here in Ohio. We all like to get out and do some of our favorite summer activities such as fishing, hiking, tending the garden, playing sports, and doing yard work. While these activities are fun, they can put us at risk for encountering two unfriendly species of plants: poison ivy and poison sumac.

Here is what you need to know to avoid and to treat exposure to these plants.

Poison ivy is found throughout the continental United States, except for the desert. It usually grows as a vine or a small shrub, presenting as a cluster of three leaves. These leaves can vary in color and texture depending on the time of year. The leaves can be green, yellow, and even purple, usually with a sheen on the top of the leaf.

Poison sumac tends to grow in wet areas in the eastern United States. It usually grows as a small shrub or tree. Unlike poison ivy, poison sumac presents as a red branch with seven to thirteen leaves paired at the branch. The leaves are usually green, but they change color like the leaves on other trees.


Both of these plants contain the same rash-causing toxin called urushiol. This toxin produces an allergic contact dermatitis when skin is exposed to it. Coming into contact with any part of the plant puts you at risk with the toxin.

Urushiol can be spread by more than direct contact with the plant, however. Anything that comes into contact with the plant can carry the toxin on it including: pets, clothing, tools, and sporting equipment. Burning any part of the plant does not kill the toxin, but instead allows it to cover longer distances and be inhaled, which can be extremely dangerous and life threatening.

The rash that is caused by urushiol, when coming into contact with the skin, is extremely itchy. It can present as a small patch on the skin or, in more severe cases, can cover the entire body. The rash can be a red, itchy area or can present with blisters.

Contrary to popular belief, the rash is not contagious and cannot be spread by scratching. The only way for the rash to spread is if the toxin comes into contact with an un-infected area of skin. Urushiol is not contained in the blisters and, once it has been removed, the rash cannot spread.

If the rash is very severe or if urushiol is inhaled, please seek medical attention immediately.


After immediate exposure to the toxin, wash exposed areas in warm, soapy water. If you have it around, Tecnu, an outdoor cleansing agent, can be used to remove the oils as well. Wash clothes separately from other items with detergent to remove oil from clothing. Shoes and other items that you cannot wash may be cleaned with alcohol while wearing rubber or latex gloves.

Treatment of the rash depends on the severity. If the rash is not very severe, the use of calamine lotion or hydrocortisone 1% cream or ointment can be used. These products help with the itching and hydrocortisone helps with inflammation as well. Hydrocortisone should not be used near the eyes, mouth, or on broken skin. Cool compresses can also help.

More severe cases may require an antihistamine like diphenhydramine (Benadryl). The antihistamine helps with the inflammation and itching. One caution with using diphenhydramine is that it can cause drowsiness.

As previously stated, if you have a very severe rash or if the toxin is inhaled, please seek medical attention immediately.

We all love our summer activities and want to be safe while participating in them. Learning to recognize these pesky plants can be very beneficial. Knowing the treatment for the rash and how to remove the oils can prevent a very unpleasant time.

I hope this has been helpful. Now get out there and enjoy some of the ever changing Ohio summer.