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Poison Ivy vs. Poison Oak

If you love the great outdoors, it’s a good idea to know some of the plants that are out there, especially if contact with any can pose a health risk. Poison ivy and poison oak may be beautiful to look at, but getting too close to these plants can trigger an allergic reaction in some people. Exposure to these plants or the toxic oil and irritant called urushiol found in the plants could leave you with an uncomfortable rash. What’s the difference between these two plants that could potentially leave you with an allergic reaction?

AFC Boulder & AFC Louisville can help treat all allergic reactions to poison ivy or poison oak. Visit one of our centers today on a walk-in basis to receive treatment and have you feeling better for the rest of the summer!

Plant Leaves

Poison ivy: This is a vine plant that grows close to the ground, and its slightly pointed leaves grow in clusters of three. While the leaves can be a rich green, seasonal changes can see the leaves turn reddish or yellowish.

Poison oak: Sharing similarities with the poison ivy, the poison oak plant has leaves that grow in clusters of three, are richly green, and change to different shades of red throughout the year. However, the leaves are round in shape with a fuzzy surface and not pointy like poison ivy.

Plant Berries

The berries produced by the poison ivy plant are whitish-green with pumpkin-shaped berries, while the poison oak berries produced by a poison oak tree are small and have a green-yellow color, which turns tan when mature.


Poison ivy is found in many United States regions, but not Alaska, Hawaii, and some areas on the West Coast. Low shrub poison oak is typically found in Eastern and Southern states but can be found on the West Coast as a long vine or tall clump.

Poison Ivy Rash

Both plants can trigger an allergic reaction in some people, with symptoms that include:

  • Blisters and streaky bumps
  • Itchy skin rash
  • Redness and swelling at the site

Treatment of Rash

There are several approaches to treating a rash after exposure to either plant:

  • If exposed to poison ivy or poison oak, thoroughly clean the skin where contact was made with the plant or its resin with soap and water to help prevent a severe rash from developing.
  • Use over-the-counter (OTC) products, like calamine lotion, antihistamines, and cold compresses to minimize the discomfort caused by the rash, such as itching. In the event of a worsening rash, make an appointment to see your physician.  
  • To minimize the itching, try OTC hydrocortisone topical cream.

When to Seek Medical Attention

Seek urgent treatment if:

  • Symptoms such as blisters, difficulty breathing, high fever, swelling as well as a rash is experienced
  • Rash on genitals or face (near the eye)
  • Experience severe blisters
  • Home remedies or OTC treatments fail to alleviate symptoms

Poison ivy and poison oak share similarities, and both can trigger an allergic reaction. Protect yourself from exposure to either plant when heading outdoors. If you come into contact with a plant or its resin, treat promptly, but if you experience a severe reaction, seek urgent care immediately.

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