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Poison Sumac Rash

Last reviewed by Dr. Raj MD on January 12th, 2022.

A poison sumac rash is an allergic reaction caused by poison sumac plant. A poison sumac is a plant similar to poison ivy and poison oak. It is found on wetlands, swampy areas, hardwood forest, and pinewoods. It is commonly seen in the southern and eastern parts of America. (1, 2)

A poison sumac plant with grey to ivory white fruits image photo picture

Image 1: A poison sumac plant with grey to ivory white fruits.
Picture Source: www.poison-ivy.org

The leaves of poison sumac change in color with the changing of the season image photo picture

Picture 2: The leaves of poison sumac change in color with the changing of the season.
Photo Source: www.wikihow.com

How to identify a poison sumac tree?

  • The stems are red.
  • The leaves have 7 to 13 leaflets that come in pairs.
  • The leaflets have smooth and velvety texture. The edges are smooth and V-shaped.
  • In the early spring, the leaves are bright orange and will eventually change to glossy dark green.

In the fall, the leaves turned to red-orange.

  • The flowers are yellow-green and arranged in clusters.
  • The fruits are grey to ivory-white in color. (1, 2, 3)

What does poison sumac rash look like? Pictures

Poison sumac rashes characterized by reddening of the skin and the presence of blisters image picture photo

Photo 3: Poison sumac rashes characterized by reddening of the skin and the presence of blisters.
Image Source: healthosphere.com

A severe poison sumac rash that warrants immediate medical attention photo picture image

Image 4 : A severe poison sumac rash that warrants immediate medical attention.
Picture Source: img.photobucket.com

A severe allergic reaction as manifested by swelling of the face and eyes image photo picture

Picture 5: A severe allergic reaction as manifested by swelling of the face and eyes.
Image Source: encrypted-tbn0.gstatic.com

A poison sumac plant releases an oil when it is bruised or damaged. The oil is called urushiol. Once your skin touches the plant’s oil, it will trigger an allergic reaction. The most common form is contact dermatitis. Keep in mind that the parts of the sumac plant are poisonous.

In fact, even if the plant dies, its oil can still cause an allergic reaction. The allergic reaction takes place within 8 to 48 hours after exposure to poison sumac. The clinical manifestations include:

  • Itching and burning sensation on the skin
  • Swelling and redness
  • blisters (3, 4, 5)

How allergic reaction takes place?

  • If you touch any parts of the plant, especially if the plant is bruised or damaged.
  • If you touch any objects or animals that get in contact with the bruised or damaged plants.
  • If you are exposed to the smoke of a burning poison sumac. (4, 5)

Is a poison sumac rash contagious?

It is not contagious but if the oil remains on your skin and other people get in contact with, then you can transmit the allergic-causing component of the plant. The rash may last for several days and can spread from one part of the body to other parts. (5, 6)

Poison sumac rash Treatment

  • How do you treat poison sumac rash? Once you get in contact with poison sumac, make sure you check for any oil. If there is, then immediately remove the oil.
  • To remove the oil, you should wash your skin with tap water and rinse with rubbing alcohol. You can also use dishwashing soap and rinse with water before applying rubbing alcohol.
  • Thoroughly wash your hands to make sure there is no residue of oil in your hands.
  • If you developed an allergic reaction, you have to wait for the allergy to subside on its own. You can somehow alleviate the itching and burning sensation by applying hydrocortisone cream and calamine lotion. You can also take antihistamine.
  • For itching, apply cold compress. Applying milk can also help alleviate the itching.
  • An oatmeal bath also helps in alleviating itch and discomfort.
  • Avoid using bleaching agent to cleanse the skin, especially if there is an open wound. It can cause further harm than good.
  • Stay calm but be wary of severe allergic reactions. If you are experiencing difficulty of breathing and swelling of the face, then you need to go to the nearest hospital. Difficulty of breathing and the presence of a wheezing sound are indicators that your body is going through a severe anaphylactic shock. In the emergency room, you will be treated with a bronchodilator so as to open your airway and prevent difficulty of breathing. Examples of bronchodilators are epinephrine and albuterol.
  • If you are feeling dizzy and lightheaded, you should refrain from moving. Lie down and raise your legs up so as to allow the flow of blood to your brain. (5, 6, 7, 8)

When should you ask for help?

If the poison sumac rashes are extreme and had spread to various parts of the body, especially the face and sensitive areas of the body like the genitals, then you need to immediately see your doctor. Fever is also a sign of infection.

If you have a fever, then that’s an indicator that you need to see your doctor. If you experience the difficulty of breathing and swelling of the face and eyes, then you should call 911. It is an emergency situation that warrants immediate medical attention. (7, 8)

Who should you contact if you have a poison sumac rash?

For poison sumac rash, you need to see a dermatologist. However, if the allergic reaction is severe that it causes difficulty breathing, then you need to see an emergency medicine specialist. (8, 9)

Are there any complications?

Infection is the number one complication of poison sumac rash. The rashes are itchy and so there is a tendency that you will scratch it, which increases the risk for infection. Clinical manifestations of infection include blisters and pus.

An inhalation of poison sumac oil increases the chance of lung irritation, which can be extremely fatal. Clinical manifestations include the difficulty of breathing and coughing with wheezing sound. (6, 8, 9)


A poison sumac rash is not really a life-threatening condition if it is just mild and address the soonest time possible. The most important thing is you know how to get rid of poison sumac rash at home. However, for severe exposure to poison sumac oil, especially if it is burned and you inhaled the smoke, could lead to difficulty breathing and anaphylactic shock.

It is a fatal condition and with the absence of immediate care, the patient could die. Therefore, you need to be extremely cautious with your actions. If you get in contact with a poison sumac plant, you have to check your body and clothing for any poisonous substance.

The allergic reaction may take at least eight hours and so before it starts, you need to get rid of your body anything that can trigger an allergic reaction. Follow the treatment remedies mentioned above. (1, 10)


  1. https://www.healthline.com/health/outdoor-health/poison-sumac
  2. https://www.webmd.com/allergies/ss/slideshow-poison-plants
  3. https://www.medicinenet.com/image-collection/rash_from_poisonous_plants_picture/picture.htm
  4. https://www.emedicinehealth.com/allergy_poison_ivy_oak_and_sumac/article_em.htm
  5. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/multimedia/poison-ivy/sls-20076702
  6. https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/itchy-skin/poison-ivy-oak-and-sumac
  7. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000027.htm
  8. http://www.domeboro.com/skin-care-center/plant-rash/poison-oak-sumac/
  9. https://healthosphere.com/poison-sumac-rash/
  10. https://www.zanfel.com/help/rashfaq.html

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