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General Poison Ivy / Poison Oak / Poison Sumac Information
Poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac rashes are caused by exposure to poisonous plants. In sensitive people, exposure and skin contact causes a red area that my be slightly swollen and covered with small blisters. Exposed areas, such as the hands, arms, and face, are most frequently involved. The itching may range from moderate to intense.

There are two types of poison ivy: the climbing variety (toxicodendron radicans) and the nonclimbing (toxicodendron rydbergii) or Rydberg's poison ivy. These species interbreed, look very similar, sometimes grow in the same places, and can give you the same rash.

The name poison oak is often applied to the shrub-like forms of poison ivy and to at least two similar plants that are usually considered separate species of the cashew family, Anacardiaceae.

The poison oak of the southeastern United States, Rhus quercifolia, has its leaves divided into three leaflets; the leaflets are densely haired and generally have three to seven distinct lobes. The white, berry-like fruits are also somewhat hairy. The poison oak of the U.S. Pacific coast, R. diversiloba, is a shrubby or sometimes climbing plant that grows to 2.4 m (8 ft) high; its three-leaflet leaves are toothed or lobed and are hairless. Both species contain poisonous substances that are believed to be identical or closely related to that found in poison ivy.

Poison sumac grows in southern swamps and northern wetlands. All three produce similar symptoms, so all three are referred to as poison ivy. In almost all cases the poison ivy plant can be defined by three leaves, and can grow on a vine or appear as an individual plant. It often grows in large patches and can climb trees. A picture of the poison ivy plant in the summer, spring, and fall are below.

Poison Ivy Picture in the summer Poison Ivy Picture in the spring Poison Ivy Picture in the Fall

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Possible Causes of Poison Ivy / Poison Oak / Poison Sumac
Poison ivy rash is caused by touching the poison ivy plant or touching something that has touched the poison ivy plant. The oils from the poison ivy plant can be transferred easily from clothing or a dog. The most common way of getting the rash is by touching the leaves; however, the stem, vine or roots can also result in a rash.

Though unusual, a person can get poison ivy in the lungs by breathing smoke from firewood burning with a poison ivy vine in it.

The oil of the poison Ivy and Oak plant is called Urushiol. Urushiol causes an allergic reaction after the first sensitizing exposure. The oil is in the leaves, vines, and roots of the poison ivy plant. That's why tearing out the vine is so dangerous - it releases larger quantities of urushiol.

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Possible Symptoms of Poison Ivy / Poison Oak / Poison Sumac
First signs of exposure to Poison Ivy or Poison Oak are a slight itchy red spot, which gets worse and worse rather quickly. It will spread rapidly the more it is itched. The oil is spread out in the itching process after first exposure or if it is on the hands, it will spread to whatever is touched. Poison ivy rash can start out as a small itchy area then cover the whole or parts of the body with large red patchy welts, sores or fluid filled boils.

Systemic reactions may appear as recurrence of rashes after the initial rash. New oil will continue to resurface from inside the body; the re-rashing cycle may go on for weeks. In severe cases, permanent scarring may result. It is important that see a doctor to halt further breakouts.

Systemic reactions can result from cutting, handling or pulling the plant's stems. There is enough oil on a stem to infect more than 10,000 people. When it is concentrated that much in one spot, the oil tends to be absorbed by the body more readily. Exposing an open cut, even a mosquito bite, to the plant allows the oil direct access to the blood system. A picture of a common poison ivy rash is below.

Picture of Poison Ivy Rash.

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Possible Lifestyle Changes for Poison Ivy / Poison Oak / Poison Sumac
When hiking, camping, or working outdoors, wear proper shoes, socks, pants and long sleeve shirts. Most exposures are as simple as brushing up next to the poison ivy plant leaf while walking on a trail. Be able to identify the poison ivy plant species in order to avoid the plant on trails or when working outdoors, thus reducing the risk of exposure. Be cautious when removing vines from tree trunks or ground vegetation that has no leaves or may look dead. Poison Ivy plant oils may be present.

If doing gardening or working in the woods or heavy vegetation, wear gloves and long sleeves that protect the wrist. Many people are exposed at the hands, wrists and knees when pulling weeds, cutting firewood or climbing trees. Carefully remove and wash clothing after any type of outdoor adventure where the possibility of contact with poison ivy may have occurred. Be cautious with shoes, socks and the ankle areas of pants. Since urushiol can remain active for months, wash camping, sporting, fishing or hunting gear that was in contact with the oil immediately.

Hands may be exposed to the poison ivy plant or may get the oil from clothing. When bare hands are used to wipe the sweat from the forehead, neck, eyes or arms or to itch in the groin and genital areas (common among young boys spreading poison ivy plant oils to delicate areas of the body), exposure may occur. Instead, of using the hands, wipe sweat away using a clean towel or rag. Wash your hands regularly if possible with soap and water to eliminate poison ivy plant oils from the skin. If wearing gloves, be cautious with where you put the gloves. It is recommended that after any hike or outdoor work to immediately wash the hands upon return.

Some people appear to be immune to poison ivy plant oil, others may become immune over time; however, one should be cautious as immunity can change at any time. Don't test your immunity by touching the plant. Be cautious not to burn poison ivy vines that are attached to tree trunks. The vines may appear dead but still contain large quantities of poisonous oils that will be released into the air when burning. Inhaling the burning smoke or ash or getting the smoke on the skin will also cause a reaction. If you know you have been exposed, quickly wash the exposed area and hands with soap and water (use jewelweed soap if possible). Wash all exposed areas with cold running water as soon as possible. Within the first 30 minutes, soap and water are helpful.

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In accordance with FDA regulation, we do not make any therapeutic claims for any Dietary Supplements in accordance with the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act.

Beneficial Dietary Supplements
Jewelweed is effective for treating a wide variety of natural irritants. It is used by various US Forest Service and National Parks service Personnel. Jewelweed can be used to treat Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, Poison Sumac, Stinging Nettles, mild burns, blisters, cuts, insect bites, sores, sprains, sunburn, warts, ringworm, eczema, and dry skin.

Vitamin C with Bioflavonoids is used to prevent infection and spreading of the rash.

Calamine Lotion has drying properties for faster healing.

Shark Cartilage reduces inflammation.

Vitamin A is needed for healing of skin tissue.

Vitamin E Oil or Cream aids in healing and scarring.

Zinc is needed for skin tissue repair.

Aloe Vera helps relieve burning and itching.

Marshmallow Root soothes and heals skin.

Tea Tree Oil disinfects and heals skin condition.

REFERENCES: Prescription for Nutritional Healing, 3rd Edition, Phyllis Balch, CNC; James F. Balch, M.D.

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