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Poison Oak Rash- Symptoms and Treatment

What is Poison Oak Rash?

The leaves and stem of the poison oak plant cause an allergic reaction that is termed poison oak rash. The plant is a leafy shrub that can grow 6 feet tall like a climbing vine. It releases an oil called urushiol when it sustains damage. The skin absorbs the allergen when the plant is touched. According to research, about 50-75 percent of the adult population of the United States is sensitive to urushiol.(1) The only way to prevent an allergic reaction is to avoid touching the poison oak plant.

Poison Oak Rash- Symptoms and Treatment

Symptoms of Poison Oak Rash

The symptoms of poison oak rash appear in 1-3 days after exposure.(2) The first symptom is the appearance of rash in the place of contact. It is termed Toxicodendron dermatitis.

Other symptoms of poison oak rash include:

  • Skin Itching: There may be an itching and stinging sensation.
  • Rash: As the reaction progresses, a rash appears, which may be red or pink on light skin. The rashes may appear as purple, gray, black, or darker on black and brown skin tones.
  • Blisters: Next blisters form within the rash, which may grow in size and ooze non-contagious liquid.
  • Healing: As the blister ooze and bursts the rash begins to dry out and eventually forms a crust that gets fully dry and begins to heal. This may take 2-3 weeks and a person experiences itching as well.

According to the American Association of Dermatology, a poison oak rash may take 1-14 days to resolve.(3)

Treatment of Poison Oak Rash

The symptoms of poison oak rash can be reduced with several treatments, which include over-the-counter medications.

A few measures that a person can take on coming in contact with poison oak are:

  • Immediately wash the skin with dishwashing soap, laundry detergent, poison oak cleanser, or rubbing alcohol.
  • Rinse the skin with cold water
  • Wash the area under the nails.
  • Doing this within 10-20 minutes of coming in contact with the plant can be helpful in preventing the rash from forming.

Home Remedies for Poison Oak Rash

According to the Food and Drug Administration, there are a few ways to soothe the rash and prevent them from getting worse.(4) These include:

  • Wet compress
  • Over-the-counter lotions, such as calamine or those containing zinc oxide, zinc acetate, zinc carbonate, and aluminum acetate.
  • Over-the-counter topical corticosteroids

Soaking the rash in cool water may be beneficial to the person. Also, a lukewarm water bath containing colloidal oatmeal may be beneficial. Scratching should be avoided as the bacteria in the nails may infect the rash.


Antihistamines and diphenhydramines can be helpful in easing itching.(5)

The doctors prescribe oral and topical corticosteroids or strong antihistamines to ease the symptoms.

Spread of Poison Oak Rash

There are several reasons the poison oak rash may spread. The person may accidentally spread the oil from one part of the body to another. These can lead to a rash near the original rash.

The poison oak rash can also spread from the person’s clothes to other parts of the body that did not come in contact with the plant. The rash is known to develop first on the area of the skin that is exposed to more oil. It develops later in the area that has exposure to lesser oil.

The rash is not contagious but can possibly spread to others by clothes, gardening tools, and other items exposed to the person who has come in contact with poison oak.
Its spread can be prevented by wearing protective gloves, washing clothes with hot water, and cleaning tools with rubbing alcohol or soap.

When to Contact a Doctor?

If the swelling is more than hives, in the affected area, the person should contact a doctor.

Other symptoms of poison oak rash which require immediate consultation with a doctor include:

  • High temperature
  • Tenderness around the rash
  • Pus and yellow scabs on the rash
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • No improvement in rashes after a few weeks
  • Widespread rash
  • Spread to genitals, eyes, and mouth
  • Severe itching that disturbs sleep

Severe allergy symptoms should also not be ignored and emergency help should be taken. These include:

  • Swelling around the eyes, face, lips, or tongue
  • A strong feeling of being unwell
  • Headache
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Affected swallowing and breathing.
Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:July 15, 2022

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