Summertime Rashes: Poison Oak, Poison Ivy and Wild Parsnips


Summertime means finally getting to jump back into outdoor activities, like hiking or camping. While enjoying all your local parks, trails and campgrounds have to offer, don’t let unwanted souvenirs on your skin cast a shadow on your time with Mother Nature. Lance Goodall, MD, UnityPoint Health, shares three plants to watch out for and what to do if you accidentally come in contact with poison oak and ivy or wild parsnips.

Common Skin Irritants & Symptoms

Poison Oak & Poison Ivy

Location: They’re commonly found along the sunny edges of wooded areas, such as forests, fields, hiking trails, near campgrounds and sometimes in residential areas.

Symptoms: Both present with similar symptoms, including:

  • Blisters
  • Itching
  • Redness
  • Inflammation
  • Patterns appearing in streaks or patches

Knowing the symptoms of coming into contact with these two plants helps differentiate them from other rashes, as redness and itching can be present in a number of irritants. Symptoms generally appear in 12 -24 hours after exposure but can take up to a week.

Wild Parsnips

Location: Like poison ivy and poison oak, wild parsnips prefer sunny areas in open areas, including roadsides, ditches, fields and prairies.

Symptoms: Encounters with wild parsnips can result in the following:

  • Sunburn type rash
  • Discolored skin
  • Blisters

Symptoms occur after the skin affected is exposed to sunlight. Rashes from parsnips will likely appear within 12-24 hours.

Treatment for Rashes Caused by Plants

Poison oak, poison ivy and wild parsnip rashes are treated in similar ways.

Wash clothes and skin immediately: The oils from poison oak and poison ivy can stay on clothing and your pets for up to a year. Be sure to thoroughly wash your clothes, shoes and pets if you've come in contact with an irritant. Try an oatmeal bath for young children as a gentler alternative to soap.

Apply a cool compress: Use a washcloth soaked in cold water to sooth the irritated skin.

Use anti-itch medicine: Creams like Corticosteroid or Calamine lotion will help reduce itching.

When to See Your Doctor About a Rash

If you aren’t experiencing any relief with in-home treatments, it’s time to head to your nearest urgent care, especially if the following occurs:

  • Severe blistering, swelling, or itching
  • Sensitive areas, such as the eyes, are affected
  • Fever
  • Long-lasting rash covers a large portion of your skin
  • Blisters become infected