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Health Issues

Poison Ivy & Poison Oak

Skin reactions to poison ivy or poison oak are very uncomfortable, itchy, and unsightly. They can make a child miserable.

About half of the children who come in contact with either poison ivy or poison oak have an allergic reaction. Typically, the skin becomes reddened, swollen, and blistered, with the rash shaped like streaks or in patches. The children experience severe itching and burning sensations. The rash usually appears one to four days after your child is exposed. Then blisters form and soon rupture, fluid oozes out of them, and they eventually become crusty.

As with all allergies, preventing exposure to the offending agent is most important. Particularly if your child spends time in forests and fields, make sure she knows what the poison ivy and poison oak plants look like. Poison ivy is a red-stemmed, three-leafed plant whose shiny green leaves turn bright red in the fall. Poison oak has green shiny leaves that also grow three to a stem. You might teach your child the poem: "Leaves of three, let them be." Particularly when you have younger children, inspect the parks they play in for any poison ivy or oak, and have the plants removed.

The skin reactions to poison ivy and poison oak are not contagious and cannot be transmitted from one child to another. But if your youngster comes in contact with the plants themselves, she should wash immediately with soap and water to remove as much of the sap or oil as possible. This will keep its absorption—and the ensuing inflammation—to a minimum. Pets playing in yards with poison ivy and poison oak can be a source of exposure to family members.

The rash will heal within about two weeks, although your doctor may suggest some treatment to relieve the symptoms. For instance, to ease both the itching and oozing, have your child soak the affected area in cool water for a few minutes, or rub it gently for ten to twenty minutes, several times a day, with an ice cube; then let the skin air-dry. A hydrocortisone cream might also be helpful. To discourage scratching and further damage to the skin, keep your child's fingernails trimmed. If your youngster cannot sleep at night because of the itching, you may give her an antihistamine. While mild cases can be treated at home, consult a doctor if your child is especially uncomfortable, if the rash is severe, if it has erupted on your child's face or groin, or if it shows signs of infection (fever, redness, and swelling beyond the poison ivy or oak lesions).

Last Updated
Caring for Your School-Age Child: Ages 5 to 12 (Copyright © 2004 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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