Poison Ivy

The rash is caused by the oil of poison ivy (poison oak or poison sumac) plants.  More than 50% of people are sensitive to the oil, which causes redness and blisters that are extremely itchy. Spots often occur in lines or streaks on exposed body parts where the plant oil brushed the skin.  These appear 1-2 days after plant exposure and usually last about two weeks.

Prevention is the best approach.  Teach your older children to recognize and avoid all plants with three large shiny leaves even if the plant is dead.  There is a saying, “Leaves of 3, let them be.”  Wear long sleeves, pants and socks when walking through woods or brush in the spring, summer, and fall.

CONTAGIOUSNESS: The rash or fluid from the blisters is not contagious. However anything that has the poison ivy oil or sap on it can cause rashes for about one week after exposure.  This includes the shoes and clothes worn into the woods as well as any pets that may have oil on their fur.  Be sure to wash them off with soap and water. Also, areas of skin with the most exposure to poison ivy may break out a day or so before lesser exposed areas.  For instance, plant oil on the hand may be spread when you scratch your face.  The face may break out later.  The rash is not spreading.


Apply 1% hydrocortisone cream early to reduce itching.  If itching persists, give Benadryl orally every 4 to 6 hours as needed. Keep your child cool.  Caladryl or Aloe may be soothing.


 During office hours if:

  • the face, eyes, lips or genitals become involved
  • the rash looks infected (yellow pus, spreading redness, or red streaks)
  • poison ivy lasts longer than 2 weeks
  • you have other questions or concerns
  • a large amount of the body’s surface area is involved
  • you have a lot of swelling


Immediately if:

Poison ivy is not a medical emergency.  Please call during office hours with concerns.

Note: If poison ivy is extensive, your doctor may consider using steroids.  Steroids will never be called in over the phone without first seeing a patient.

Call or Visit

  • phone: (616) 243-9515

  • FAX: (616) 243-1815

  • after hours: (616) 776-7401

  • or contact us via the Patient Portal

  • Alger Pediatrics
    733 Alger St. SE
    Grand Rapids, MI 49507