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How to Identify, Prevent, and Treat Poison Oak

How to Identify, Prevent, and Treat Poison Oak

Nature Labs , Administrator  

How do I identify poison oak?


Poison oak (Toxicodendron Mill.) is closely related to poison ivy and is equally dangerous. With three shiny, green leaves, its appearance is similar as well. Depending on the season, the leaves can also be red, reddish black, orange, yellowish, or deep green. Poison oaks bear small, greenish-white berries in late summer; these berries generally remain on the plant through early winter.

Poison oak usually grows as a shrub, but the Pacific poison oak sometimes grows as a vine.

Poison oak can be found in most of the United States and Southern Canada (see the following USDA distribution map).

How do I prevent and treat a poison oak rash?

As with poison ivy, the surest way to prevent a poison oak rash is to avoid touching the plant. Even the slightest contact is often enough to get the potent and inflammatory urushiol oil on your skin or clothes. Urushiol is the common irritating agent in poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac. This urushiol does not usually become airborne unless the poison oak is being burned or diced up by a machine (such as a lawnmower).

Although jewelweed is more closely associated with poison ivy, it can be used to prevent and treat poison oak rashes in the same way (since the cause, urushiol, is the same). Jewelweed lotion can help to prevent a poison oak rash from starting (you would put this on before going hiking or hunting), and jewelweed soap can help to cure an already developed or suspected rash.

For poison ivy, oak, and sumac, there are three important tenets (among others) that you should be aware of:

1. If you think you have touched poison ivy, oak, or sumac, be sure that you do not touch your eyes!

2. You should never burn poison ivy, oak, or sumac - inhaling the smoke can cause lung irritation! (Source: CDC)

3. Dead poison ivy, oak, or sumac plants are not safe - urushiol can remain active on any surface for as long as five years! In fact, samples of urushiol that were hundreds of years old were found to cause dermatitis in sensitive individuals. (Source: TDI/DWC)

DID YOU KNOW: Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac are part of the sumac family (Anacardiaceae), which also contains the cashew, mango, and pistachio nut species.

Poison oak dermatitis can be a serious medical condition and if you believe you have a poison oak dermatitis, you should seek medical attention. This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace professional medical advice.



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