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First Aid & Emergencies

Babysitting: Dealing With Poison Ivy/Oak/Sumac

When someone has a physical reaction to poison ivy/oak/sumac, it’s because of the oil in the plants, which can cause an allergic rash and other symptoms.

Signs and symptoms of a mild allergic reaction from poison ivy/oak/sumac include:

  • an itchy red rash
  • blisters that ooze clear fluid
  • bumps and blisters that may be different sizes and look like streaks on the skin

Signs and symptoms of a severe allergic reaction from poison ivy/oak/sumac include:

  • difficulty breathing or wheezing
  • chest tightness
  • swelling of the tongue or throat

Call 911 immediately, and then the child’s parents, if a child has a severe allergic reaction.

What to Do

If a child has a mild allergic reaction to poison ivy/oak/sumac:

  • Immediately remove any clothing that has touched the plant or the rash. Put contaminated clothing aside and let the parents know when they get home.
  • Gently wash the child’s skin.
  • Scrub under the child’s fingernails with soap and water.
  • Place cool compresses on the child’s skin if he or she starts scratching the affected area.

To help prevent contact with and reactions to poison ivy/oak/sumac:

  • Make sure that kids wear pants and long-sleeved shirts when playing close to plants that may be poison ivy/oak/sumac.
  • Have kids wash their hands after playing outside.

Reviewed by: Kate M. Cronan, MD
Date reviewed: January 2011