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Allergy: Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac (cont.)

Causes of Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac Rash

The rash caused by poison ivy, oak, and sumac is an allergic skin reaction to an oil called urushiol that is inside the plant. This oil is found in all parts of the plant, including the leaves, stems, roots, and berries.

Exposure to the oil occurs through any of the following:

  • Touching any part of the plants
  • Touching clothing or other objects that have contacted the plants
  • Touching pets or other animals that have contacted the plants
  • Exposure to the smoke of burning plants

Poison ivy, oak, and sumac rash itself is not contagious. However, if oil remains on the skin or on clothing that came in contact with the plants, and the oil comes into further contact with skin, a rash may result. The rash may appear to "spread" because it can develop over several days, or it's possible the oil was not entirely removed from all surfaces.

Risk factors for developing poison ivy, oak, or sumac rash include being in areas where the plants grow, engaging in outdoor activities, and coming into contact with them.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/23/2014

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Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

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