Poison ivy: Signs and symptoms

What you see and feel on your skin is caused by urushiol (you-ROO-shee-all). Urushiol is the oil in poison ivy, oak, and sumac. You find this oil in all parts of the plants — the leaves, stems, and even the roots. Within minutes of contact with urushiol, the skin starts to absorb it. But you don't feel this. And you don't see a rash right way.

                rash on armRash from poison ivy: Redness, small, itchy bumps (hives), and itchy skin are common.

If this is your first contact with urushiol, you may not see a rash. Or it may take a week for the rash to appear. The rash also can appear within hours or a few days. If you have a reaction to the oil, you can have these signs (what you see) and symptoms (what you feel):

  • Itchy skin.
  • Redness or red streaks.
  • Hives.
  • Swelling.
  • An outbreak of small or large blisters, often forming streaks or lines.
  • Crusting skin (after blisters burst).

The rash is very itchy and can appear on any part of the body. The rash can continue to appear on new parts of the body when:

  • Other parts of the body touch the oil.
  • You spread the oil on your skin by touching other parts of your body.

You cannot give the rash to someone else. Even if the person touches the rash or the fluids in the blisters, the person cannot get the rash. The person has to touch the oil to get the rash.

Learn more about poison ivy, oak, and sumac:

Image used with permission of the American Academy of Dermatology National Library of Dermatologic Teaching Slides.

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