Although lesser known than its irritating cousin poison ivy, poison sumac is quite prevalent in wet forests and grasslands, especially in the southeastern United States. This plant grows as a woody shrub that reaches between 5 and 20 feet in height when mature. It has light green, ovular leaves that come to fine points at their ends. About 10 leaves grow on each stem. Touch poison sumac, and you'll develop a red, inflamed rash. The plant is actually more allergenic than poison ivy, and thus the rash is often more severe.
The rash caused by poison sumac generally starts as small, red bumps and becomes more inflamed and irritated over a period of several days. Often, the rash develops blisters and itches intensely. It may appear anywhere that the skin came into contact with the oils from poison sumac. If you think you may have a poison sumac rash, follow these tips to treat it effectively.
Take oatmeal baths.
Oatmeal is very soothing to the skin and will help alleviate your itching. Grind plain oatmeal up in your blender or food processor until it's very fine, and then add about 1/3 cup of this to warm bath water. Soak in the bath for 20–30 minutes daily.
Use hydrocortisone creams, but not antihistamine creams.
Hydrocortisone creams are available over-the-counter at most drug stores. Apply one according to the instructions on the package, and remember to use it regularly until the rash has cleared. Do not, however, use an antihistamine cream, as these have been known to make poison sumac rashes worse.
Apply cool compresses, but do not itch.
You'll be very tempted to itch the rash, especially during the first few days when it is developing. However, itching will increase your risk of bacterial infection and may slow healing. To soothe your itchiness, try applying a cool, damp washcloth to the rash. You can also hold an ice pack against the rash for a few minutes at a time. Make sure there's a barrier, such as clothing or a thin cloth, between your skin and the ice.
Seek medical care if you develop a fever or the rash becomes warm.
These are signs that a secondary bacterial infection is developing at the site of the rash. Bacterial infections can be quite severe and lead to body-wide symptoms, so it's essential that you seek treatment so that antibiotics can be prescribed to help your body fight the infection.
Most poison sumac cases can be treated at home. However, if your symptoms don't improve within a few days or your rash covers a large area of your body, it's wise to seek medical treatment. A doctor, such as Advanced Urgent Care, can prescribe oral steroids or stronger hydrocortisone creams that may help you heal faster.