Topic Overview

High-dose prescription
corticosteroid medicines can reduce the symptoms of a
poison ivy, oak, or sumac rash (allergic
contact dermatitis) and sometimes reduce the severity and shorten the length of
a rash. These medicines are usually used only for more severe cases of the
rash, such as when it covers about 10% of the body’s skin or when the face,
hands, and genitals are affected. Prescription corticosteroids are available as
pills, creams, gels, ointments, or shots.

  • Corticosteroid pills (usually prednisone) can
    dramatically reduce the symptoms caused by a strong reaction to poison ivy,
    oak, or sumac. Oral corticosteroids generally work better than other
    forms of these medicines for poison ivy, oak, or sumac. And they are usually taken
    until the symptoms are gone. How much medicine you take and for how long often
    depends on how soon you seek help after the rash appears.
  • Creams,
    gels, and ointments applied to the skin (topical products) may help reduce itching and redness.
    Examples of topical corticosteroids include clobetasol (such as Temovate), betamethasone (such as Diprolene), and fluticasone (such as Cutivate). These types of corticosteroids have no effect on blisters. But they may be useful
    after blisters have disappeared. They should be used
    for the recommended amount of time, because the rash can reappear if they are
    stopped too soon. None of these products should be used on the face or genitals,
    because they can cause the skin to become thin and fragile.
  • Shots
    of triamcinolone are sometimes used when you cannot take
    corticosteroid pills. Improperly injected corticosteroids can discolor the skin
    and cause scarring.

Prolonged use of oral and injected corticosteroids can cause serious
side effects, such as thinning of the bones (osteopenia),
slowed growth in children, and increased risk of an
ulcer or infection. Talk with your doctor
about your risks when using these medicines.

High-dose topical corticosteroids should not be confused with
over-the-counter hydrocortisone creams, gels, or ointments, which may soothe
itching in mild cases of poison ivy, oak, or sumac rash. These products are not
recommended for severe rashes. They are not strong enough and may not be
used long enough to work. They may appear to work for a time, but the rash
often suddenly flares up again, sometimes worse than before.

Related Information


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP – Emergency Medicine
Adam Husney, MD – Family Medicine
Martin J. Gabica, MD – Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Martin J. Gabica, MD – Family Medicine

Current as ofOctober 5, 2017