How to deal with poison oak on the skin

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Poison oak is basically a plant that is comprised of an oily resin known as urushiol. If this resin is allowed to get in contact with the skin, it can lead to an allergic reaction that causes rashes. In case an individual has come in contact with poison oak, the ideal treatment is to limit the exposure. Wash the hands, skin and clothing using lukewarm water and soap in order to eliminate any leftover urushiol. Always remember that poison oak can cause severe itching and discomfort, but it can be treated easily and resolves in just a week.


The rashes caused by a poison oak can develop 30 minutes to 5 days after exposure but it can last from 10 days up to 3 weeks. The severity and timing of the outbreak typically depends on the sensitivity of the individual, degree of exposure, previous reactions and the location exposed. The reaction starts with redness and swelling of the skin and then followed by blisters or bumps.

Initial symptoms

  • Itchy skin, red-colored streaks and overall redness where poison oak touched the skin.
  • Small bumps or rashes or even hives.
  • Appearance of blisters filled with fluid that tends to leak or seep.

Severe symptoms

  • Large and widespread blisters the oozes fluid.
  • Swelling of the mouth, face, neck, eyelids or genitals.

Always bear in mind that the rashes can develop in other areas of the body over several days.

How to treat an exposure to poison oak

If an individual was accidentally exposed to poison oak during outdoor activities, there are first aid measures that you can perform.

  • You can apply an over-the-counter corticosteroid cream such as hydrocortisone in order to minimize the swelling. The cream must be applied to the rashes 4 times a day.
  • Administer oral antihistamines such as diphenhydramine. This will help minimize the itching as well as promote sleep.
  • Apply calamine lotion. This topical over-the-counter lotion can help soothe the itching, thus preventing the individual from scratching the affected skin. Take note that dirty fingernails can lead to the infection of the rashes, which will surely slow down the healing process.
  • Soak the affected part to a cool tub of water. You can add oatmeal preparations to the water in order to calm the rash as well as minimize the itching. In case a bathtub is not available, the individual should take a cool shower. Cool compresses should be applied throughout the day for 30 minutes to help relieve the itchiness and swelling.
  • If the rashes have spread extensively or reached the sensitive body parts such as the lips, face and genitals, consult your doctor. In case of rashes that oozes pus, has foul odor and fever is present, also consult a doctor. The doctor might prescribe a strong steroid for the rashes or an antibiotic in case infection has set in.
poison oak exposure
When outdoors, exposure to poison oak is minimized by wearing appropriate clothing.

Important considerations to prevent poison oak exposure

If you are going outdoors, it is best to wear long pants and shirts with long sleeves in order to prevent getting in contact with poison oak. Pets that love the explore the outdoors should be bathed regularly in case they have come in contact with poison oak so that the spread can be prevented.

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