Home Remedies and Other Treatments for Poison Oak Exposure
Author: Nili N. Alai, MD, FAAD
Editor: Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP
Poison oak, also called western poison oak or Pacific poison oak, is one of the causes of allergic contagious dermatitis (ACD). Poison oak may appear as a dense shrub in open sunlight or as a woody vine under shadows. Similar to poison ivy, poison oak has three smaller leaflets on each leaf. Poison oak plants contain an oil called urushiol, a toxic chemical in their leaves, stems, and roots. Many people develop an allergic reactionthrough direct or indirect contact with urushiol or inhalation of urushiol smoke. The initial immune reaction begins once the poisonous substance is absorbed onto their skin or through mucous membranes like the nose or lips. Together with poison ivy, poison oak leads to 10% of lost work time in the U.S. Forest Service. Hundreds of firefighters in California's coastal ranges are so severely affected that they cannot work.
While about 15% of people may be immune to poison oak, this poisonous oil can cause serious allergic reactions in the majority of people.