Poison Sumac: First Aid Management

Fact Checked

Poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix) is a poisonous plant that is present in wetlands. Its leaves, stem, roots, flowers and berries all contain the oily, sticky urushiol resin. It is the urushiol resin that causes the irritation to the skin or contact dermatitis. Upon direct or indirect contact with urushiol, it causes an allergic reaction to the skin causing rashes to appear in the area where contact was made. Indirect contact may occur through coming into contact with an individual that had contact with the urushiol or through using objects that were also contaminated with the resin. Urushiol can remain active when it is no longer on the plant or even if the plant is dead.

Majority of the cases of poison sumac rashes are mild and can be managed at home with appropriate care. Medical care is only required if the rashes are extensive or are found in the face or genitalia. Moreover, these rashes are not contagious once the resin is removed from the body or clothes. Not all individuals will develop a reaction against poison sumac. Some individuals develop immunity upon first or succeeding contact with urushiol.

Poison sumac is related to poison ivy and poison oak, as these all contain urushiol. It is said to be the most virulent among the three. But it is not related to other sumacs.

Poison sumac is also called thunderwood.

How to Avoid Poison Sumac

The best way to avoid poison sumac is to know its appearance to avoid it when one goes outdoors. The description of poison sumac is as follows:

  • Appears as a woody shrub or a thin, small tree
  • Red stems
  • Thirteen leaflets on each stem ; each leaf has smooth edges and pointed tips
  • Loose berries

Signs and Symptoms of Poison Sumac Rashes

The severity of signs and symptoms of poison sumac rashes depends on the amount urushiol that comes into contact with the skin. It typically takes 12-48 hours for the symptoms to appear and usually disappears after one to three weeks. The signs and symptoms peak within 4-7 days. These include:

  • Severe itching
  • Localized red, patchy rashes that usually appear in a straight line
  • Fluid-filled blisters

First Aid Treatment and Management for Poison Sumac

Treatment and management for poison sumac can typically be done at home with appropriate first aid. Enroll in First Aid Courses to learn how to give first aid in common poisonous plants, such as poison sumac. The following tips are encouraged:

Enroll in First Aid Classes to learn how to manage poison sumac rashes
Enroll in First Aid Classes to learn how to manage poison sumac rashes
  • Thoroughly wash the skin with soap and warm water. Do this as soon as possible to stop the oil from entering the skin.
  • Remove clothes and shoes that may be contaminated with urushiol immediately. Wash these separately from other clothes with warm water and soap.
  • To clean fingernails, use a brush to avoid spreading the urushiol to other parts of the body.
  • Wear light and comfortable clothing. Sweating can worsen the itching.
  • Apply cool compress over the affected areas.
  • Bathe in tepid water and colloidal oatmeal to help relieve itching.
  • Apply calamine and hydrocortisone creams also to help relieve itching.

Poison sumac (T. vernix) is a poisonous plant that contains urushiol resin. This resin causes contact dermatitis on individuals upon contact.

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