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Poison ivy is a woody shrub that grows and spreads along the ground or climbs high in trees or on poles. It is found throughout the United States except on the West Coast. There are 3 leaflets on each leaf cluster of the plant. The 3-leaflet clusters grow about 3 to 4 inches apart on either side of the plant (Picture 1). The edges of the leaves may be smooth, toothed or rounded. The leaves are glossy green in early spring and summer, and by fall the leaves are a bright red color. The berries hang in clusters from the stem. In summer the berries are greenish-white. By fall, the berries turn to a tan color and later to a reddish color.
The poison ivy rash can be caused by an allergic reaction 1 to 3 days after contact with the sap of the plant. A child can get the rash by touching the plant, by coming into contact with the smoke from the burning plant and by touching the fur of animals that have touched the plant. Sometimes a live Christmas tree may have some of the poison ivy sap on its branches from plants growing on or near it. Only the sap of these plants causes the allergic reaction. You cannot get a rash by touching the fluid in the blisters. The fluid in the blisters does not spread the rash to other parts of the body.
Poison oak is a low-growing shrub. Stems usually grow upright. Leaflets occur in threes and have toothed edges (Picture 2).
Poison sumac grows as a woody shrub or small tree, rather than a vine. The sumac leaves have 7 to 13 leaflets in pairs with a single leaflet at the end of the twig (Picture 3). Poison sumac grows mainly in swampy areas.
Poison oak and poison sumac grow in the eastern and southeastern part of the United States. The rash is caused by contact with the sap. Poison oak and poison sumac have the same symptoms as poison ivy and are treated in the same way.
Itching, burning, redness and small blisters appear on the skin within a few hours to 5 days after contact. A severe rash with swelling and large blisters may last for several days.
A soothing lotion such as calamine may be purchased from your local pharmacy without a prescription. When applied to the rash, the lotion helps prevent itching. Wash your hands after applying the lotion. Note: It is best not to use Caladryl® lotion for poison ivy because it is absorbed into the skin. You may use calamine lotion.
CAUTION: Any weed killer that is not used must be stored out of the reach of children.
If your child has eaten any part of the plant, call the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 (TTY 614-228-2272) immediately for advice. If the child is not treated, he may have severe stomach upset.
Call your child’s doctor if:
If you need a doctor for your child, call the Children's Hospital Referral and Information Line at (614) 722-KIDS.
HH-I-111 6/83, Revised 9/11 Copyright 1983-2011, Nationwide Children's Hospital