Common Summertime Illnesses-Part Two

Poisonous Plants: “Leaves of 3’s, leave them be” 

Some plants produce an oil called urushiol that can cause an inflammatory reaction when in contact with the skin, sometimes producing a rash and/or irritated skin 

Poison Ivy: Shiny green leaves growing in low shrubs or vines, turns red in the fall 

Poison Oak: Typically grows in shrubs with leaves in 3’s, some species are vine-like.  Some species may have green or yellow leaves with green-yellow or white berries 

Poison Sumac: Woody shrub with stems, 7-13 leaves in pairs.  Plant could have pale yellow or cream-colored berries 

Rash can take hours to 2-3 weeks to appear and lasting 1-3 weeks before clearing up completely 

Characteristics of rash could include: red raised blisters that can break open and leak fluid.  Rash could present as bumps, patches, streaks or weeping blisters.  Will eventually crust over and resolve. Rash can be extremely itchy and become infected 

Urushiol oil can cause a reaction not only from contacting the plants itself, but also items that come into contact such as clothing, shoes or backpacks.  Lung irritation can occur if particles from burning poisonous plants are inhaled.   

How to treat at home: 

Wash area in contact with plant immediately with degreasing soap and copious amounts of water.  Remove all clothing/items that have come into contact or possible contact with plants and wash accordingly.  Shower entire body with degreasing soap and water as soon as possible.   

Apply cold compress to red & irritated skin, use over the counter hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion as needed.  Do not apply lotions or creams to any broken skin or blisters 

Use antihistimine over the counter such as Benadryl as needed for itching, may cause drowsiness.  Oatmeal baths can be helpful for itchy, irritated skin 

Seek immediate medical attention if rash spreads to face/eyes or genitals, or if experiencing difficulty breathing or swallowing.  


Mary Thi Huynh, RN, MSN, AGNP-C, ONC

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