Poison ivy and poison oak: How to identify, avoid, and treat


This is the time of year when people tend to walk through the woods, and come into contact with plants that may not react well with their skin, including poison ivy and poison oak. It is good to know how to identify these plants, so you can avoid them, and also what to do if you end up with a rash after coming into contact with them.

Poison Oak


Poison Oak is a woody shrub if it gets full sun, or a climbing vine in the shade of woods.

Poison Ivy is slightly easier to identify than poison oak, since it’s leaves always come in clusters of three. Two common sayings about this plant are, “Leaflets of three, let it be” and “Hairy vine, no friend of mine”, which is a reference to the vine that contains the stems with the clusters of leaves.



More than half of all the people who come into contact with these plants develop an itchy rash. It is thought to affect more than 300,000 Americans every year.

The most dangerous type of exposure occurs when the plant is burned and the smoke is inhaled, affecting the lungs.


For both poison ivy and poison oak rashes, you can treat by rinsing off the affected area with soap and water, and placing cool compresses on it, along with corticosteroid cream and calamine lotion, or oral antihistamines like Benadryl if necessary. If the rash gets worse, doesn’t improve after a few days, or comes with a high fever, you should contact your doctor for immediate treatment.


Davies, M. A. (2007, April). Outsmarting poison ivy and its relatives. 

American Academy of Dermatology – “Poison Ivy: Signs and Symptoms” 
American Academy of Family Physicians – “Skin Rashes and Other Changes” 

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