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Hikers, Mountain Bikers and Adventurers: Beware the Poison Oak Super Bloom

Hikers, Mountain Bikers and Adventurers: Beware the Poison Oak Super Bloom

You may have heard about wildflower super blooms resulting from California’s recent above average rainfall season, but if you plan to hike or bike local trails, be advised that poison oak is also currently in super bloom. A local board-certified family practice doctor who regularly sees patients experiencing irritating rash outbreaks after being exposed to poison oak shared valuable advice on how to avoid it, ways to treat it, and when to contact your doctor or go to the Emergency Department for severe cases.

“Most humans are prone to an allergic reaction when they come in contact with urushiol oil, found on the surface of poison oak leaves,” explained Washington Township Medical Foundation Family Medicine Doctor, Jaya Kediyal, MD. “The resulting rash usually shows up within 12 to 72 hours after exposure and can last for up to three weeks. In most cases, an itchy rash resulting from poison oak can be managed at home, but in some instances when the rash is extensive or the allergic reaction is more severe, it is important to seek medical attention.”

All parts of poison oak plants contain the poisonous oil urushiol, including the leaves, stems and roots. The oil binds with skin proteins within 15 minutes, which makes it hard to remove. Even the smallest amount of urushiol on the skin can cause a severe reaction and it is so potent that it can stay active on clothing or gear for years to come. The same is true for poison ivy—found in all U.S. states except California, Alaska and Hawaii, and poison sumac—found in swamps and bogs in the Eastern U.S.

An Ounce of Prevention

The best way to prevent an allergic reaction to poison oak is to know what it looks like and avoid it. If your skin comes in contact with the plant or even if oil from the leaves rubs off on your dog, clothing, bike, or other gear, those oils can transfer to your skin and cause a rash. Here are some tips for avoiding contact with poison oak and preventing an allergic reaction after contact:

  • Know what poison oak looks like and keep yourself, your children and pets away.
  • When in areas where poison oak grows, wear protective clothing, such as closed shoes, long pants and long sleeves.
  • Wash skin that has been exposed to poison oak with cool water and dish soap as soon as possible after contact.
  • Put on disposable gloves and bathe your dog if its fur has touched poison oak. Put clothing in the wash machine after exposure and thoroughly wash any shoes, tools or equipment that may have touched the plant.

Once the Itching Starts

While there are some people who are not allergic to poison oak, the majority are. In most cases, the reaction is a red, itchy rash that can result in blisters that break open, ooze, and crust over. While nothing has been proven to clear up a poison oak rash faster, over-the-counter medicines like calamine lotion, oral antihistamines, or hydrocortisone cream can help ease the itch. Cool compresses or baths with baking soda or oatmeal can also be soothing. It is important to keep the rash clean, dry, and open to the air. Also, it is important to avoid scratching, as it can cause infection or scarring.

According to Dr. Kediyal, some people are more sensitive to urushiol oil and may experience a more severe reaction when exposed to poison oak. “Usually poison oak reactions can be managed at home, but for those who are highly allergic or have a rash on more than one-fourth of their body, medical attention may be necessary. ”

A visit to an Emergency Department for immediate attention is recommended if someone experiences a rash on face or genitals; itching that cannot be controlled; a fever, chills, or overall weakness. Usually a corticosteroid, such as prednisone, will be given by injection or orally. In the case of bacterial infection, an antibiotic will be prescribed.

To learn more about protecting yourself against poison oak, see the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Poisonous Plants site at For more information on Dr. Kediyal, go to “Find a Doctor” at