In case one is spending time along rivers or lakes in the southern or northeastern parts of the U.S., one needs to watch out for poison sumac. Poison sumac is considered a much rarer plant as compared to poison ivy (but it is more poisonous). So depending on where one lives, one probably has much less of a risk of coming into contact with it frequently. Sumac shrubs are rather bigger and taller than poison ivy and poison oak plants, which grow as winding vines or short shrubs.
A rash caused by poison sumac is on account of contact with oil found in the plant called urushiol. This is, of course, the same “poisonous” oil found in poison ivy and oak.
What is the time span for a poison sumac rash to develop? After one has contact with urushiol, a red rash will typically form on one’s skin within 24 to 72 hours. The rash can also appear anywhere on one’s body where the plant’s oils have touched, most commonly one’s hands, feet or legs. If one does develop a poison sumac skin rash, in order to soothe the skin one can apply a cool compress to the skin, making use of calamine lotion and essential oils. This will help in the healing process.
What Is Poison Sumac?
Poison sumac (species name Toxicodendron vernix) is a toxic plant that does cause a skin rash upon contact. The plant is related to poison ivy as well as poison oak plants, which is why all these three plants can cause similar skin rashes.
What does a poison sumac tree look like?
Poison sumac trees are small woody shrubs that can indeed grow up to about 9 meters tall (or over 29 feet). They can also be found growing in wet or marshy areas, such as all along the east coast of the United States, especially the Northeast or the Deep South. Poison sumac thrives only in very wet habitats, so it is mostly found growing along rivers, lakes, streams or canals.
Poison sumac plants have red stems as well as bright green leaves, sometimes which have a small leaflet (an extra little leaf) growing on the side. Red stems branch off of the main trunk of the plant. Sumac berries can also indeed grow in bunches near the plant’s main branches. Sumac berries are usually green during the summer and also yellow-white during the winter.
Poison Sumac Reaction Signs & Symptoms
The most noticeable symptom linked with contacting a poison sumac tree or shrub is developing a red, itchy skin rash.
Signs and symptoms:
- Developing patches or streaks of red raised blisters.
- Itchiness cum skin dryness.
- Redness, tingling, heat or swelling of one’s skin.
- After several days, blisters developing that fill with fluid and can sometimes ooze. These may form scabs as they heal and can sometimes leave behind scarring or discoloration.
- Changes in skin color, such as blisters forming that have a yellow or orange tint.
- Increased sensitivity to the sun, heat or cold.
How long will a poison sumac rash last? Most people tend to have an active rash for about one to three weeks. Within a week of spotting the first signs of a rash, one can expect the rash to “peak” and be at its worst. One might experience redness, swollen skin, itchiness, blistering or scabbing for up to three weeks. The rash itself is not contagious and the rash does not usually spread for more than a week unless one comes into contact with urushiol again.
Causes & Risk Factors for Developing a Poison Sumac Rash
Poison sumac rashes are generally triggered by urushiol oil, which is, unfortunately, very resilient oil that can remain active for months when it does spread to fabrics or household equipment. The most common way to get a poison sumac rash is to directly touch the plant. A reaction can indeed be triggered within minutes, often without one even realizing it.
- Spending time outdoors in wet, marshy areas, especially if much of one’s skin is exposed.
- Working in agriculture and/or forestry.
- Being an “outdoor enthusiast,” such as camping or hiking along trails.
- Having eczema treatment, allergies or sensitive skin (usually fair, easily sunburned as well as prone to rashes).
- Having family members who are rather allergic to the plant or who have had reactions in the past.
- Having a history of strong allergies or weakened immune system due to other medical conditions, such as autoimmune disorders.
Many different surfaces, materials, and tools can harbor urushiol oil long after it has left a poisonous plant. Things around one’s home that might contain small amounts of urushiol, which is still enough to cause an allergic reaction upon contact, include: Gardening equipment, like gloves or shovels or garden hoses, cotton clothing, hats, shoes, socks or other clothing, pet fur furniture, doorknobs sports equipment
Conventional Treatments for Poison Sumac Reactions
Mild or moderate rash due to poison sumac does not require immediate medical attention. One needs to consult a doctor in case the rash becomes very severe, swollen or appears close to one’s eyes.
Doctors will at time prescribe antihistamine medications or even steroids to patients with severe skin rashes in order to control the immune system’s reaction. Certain medications can also help control swelling and itching and might make the rash disappear early. In case one is severely allergic to poison sumac then a corticosteroid shot, such as prednisone or triamcinolone, or creams containing hydrocortisone or other antihistamine ingredients, may be prescribed.
Can one suffer from poison sumac more than once? Yes. Making use of prescribed medication may not cure it as the rash can appear later again in case one comes into contact with urushiol again. It is common to get a rash from poison ivy, oak or sumac more than once.