Poison Sumac Rashes: Causes, Symptoms, and First Aid Treatment

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Poison Sumac Rashes
Poison Sumac Rashes

Poison sumac rashes typically occur after exposure to any part of the poison sumac plant. Poison sumac is one of the three most common plants that cause skin rashes, along with poison ivy and poison oak. The name poison sumac may be misleading as urushiol is not a poison but rather an allergen that causes an allergic reaction in most people upon direct or indirect contact with the plant causing a skin reaction. Urushiol is a sticky, oily resin that is found in the plant’s leaves, stems and roots. They can cause reactions even if they are no longer present in the plant and remain active in dead plant. There are some people that are naturally immune to urushiol but this is not a lifelong guaranteed protection.

Most cases of poison sumac rashes are not serious and can be treated and managed at home without requiring medical care. If rashes are extensive, severe or found in the face and groin area, seek medical care. Poison sumac rashes and fluids from blisters are not typically contagious. Since it is an allergic reaction, it does not typically spread from person to person. However, if the oil is still present in an individual’s skin, clothing, equipment or tools, this can be transmitted to another person and cause the same allergic contact dermatitis.

Poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix), although more rare than poison ivy, is found in the wooded, swampy areas of Canada. If one sees a poison sumac, it should be avoided to prevent having to cure from this disease. A poison sumac has seven to 13 leaflets on each stem with each leaf having pointed tips and smooth edges. They usually grow as a shrub or small tree.

What Causes Poison Sumac Rashes?

Poison sumac rashes are obtained the same way poison ivy and poison oak rashes are acquired.

  • Direct touch: direct contact with the berries, leaves, stem or roots
  • Indirect touch: touching objects that contain the oil
  • Inhalation: smoke inhalation from the burning plants causing nasal or lung damage

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Poison Sumac Rashes?

The severity of the poison sumac rashes will depend on the amount of urushiol that is exposed to the skin. Symptoms begin to manifest within 12-48 hours after exposure and typically last for one to three weeks. The common signs and symptoms include:

  • Intense itching
  • Red, patchy rashes in the region where oil was exposed to the skin (typically in a straight line)
  • Blisters

How is First Aid Administered to Treat and Manage Poison Sumac Rashes?

Poison sumac rashes can be treated and managed at home with sufficient first aid training to reduce symptoms and relieve from discomfort. The following steps are recommended:

  • Thoroughly wash the skin with warm water and soap. Perform this as soon as possible as this may prevent the oil from entering the skin.
  • Use a brush to clean under the fingernails to remove plant oil and avoid spreading to other parts of the body.
  • Immediately remove clothes and shoes as it may contain oil. Wash the clothes and shoes with warm water and soap to eliminate the oil.
  • Apply cool compress to the skin and wear light clothing. Avoid sweating as it can worsen itching.
  • To minimize itching and blistering, apply calamine lotion and hydrocortisone cream. Also, bathing in lukewarm water with an oatmeal bath product may also reduce itching. If these products do not work, antihistamines may be given.
  • Bathe animals that may have come into contact with the oil to remove it.

Disclaimer: This article should not be substituted for medical diagnosis or medical advice. These hints are for information purposes. To learn how to treat poison sumac rashes, enrol in first aid courses.

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