Contact Dermatitis: Poison Ivy & Poison Oak

Contact dermatitis occurs when skin comes in contact with an allergen. An allergen is a protein  that a person’s body recognizes as foreign and mounts an immune response against it. On the skin this manifests as a red, itchy rash.

Contact with the oil of certain plants containing allergens, such as poison ivy and poison oak, can cause an allergic skin reaction. Outdoor workers are most at risk for coming in contact with poisonous plants, but anyone is at risk when the plants are in bloom, including pet owners.

Many cases of contact dermatitis occur in the summer months due to the increased risk of coming in contact with poison ivy or poison oak. Other substances that can cause contact dermatitis include soap, perfume, jewelry, and clothing.


  • A red rash
  • Bumps, oozing blisters
  • Swelling of the skin
  • Itching
  • Burning or tenderness

First Aid

Following first aid steps after coming in contact with a poisonous plant can reduce your chances of your skin reacting to it.

  • Immediately rinse skin with water
  • Scrub under nails
  • Apply wet compresses, calamine lotion, or hydrocortisone cream to the affected area
  • Take Benadryl to reduce itching

When To Seek Medical Help

Contact dermatitis can usually be self-treated and will go away on its own. In severe cases, however, medical attention is necessary. Contact your Premier Health physician if

  • You are losing sleep from rash discomfort or itching
  • The rash becomes painful or is spreading
  • The rash persists for several weeks
  • The rash is on your face or genitals
  • You are embarrassed by the way your skin looks

Immediate medical care should be taken if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • You think the rash may be infected: painful blisters or you develop a fever
  • Your respiratory tract becomes inflamed
  • You have any swelling or difficulty breathing

There are very effective treatments at our offices, so if you have severe symptoms, please make an appointment to see us. We are available 7 days a week.

For more information on poison ivy, poison oak, or other plants that can cause contact dermatitis, please visit the CDC’s webpage.