Beware of burning poison ivy and oak

By Lisa  |  Wednesday, November 9, 2011  |  ,  |  55 comments

Beware of Burning Poison Ivy or Oak It's getting colder outside and a nice warm fire in the fireplace sounds good. You venture outside and grab some cut firewood and toss it in the fireplace. The only problem is there was a dead poison ivy vine wrapped around it. This could be very dangerous.

It is tempting to burn a poison ivy or oak plant when you want to get rid of it for good, but do not ever burn them! The poison plant oil called urushiol can burn, and you can inhale the toxin. This could cause a very severe allergic reaction.

According to the Wildland Firefighter Magazine website, inhalation of burning poison ivy and oak plants is common among firefighters although much less common among the general population. The heavy particles of the smoke contain urushiol, which will fall down in soot form and can be inhaled. The lungs can swell, cause coughing, and extreme irritation and swelling in the throat. It can also cause blisters that break and run.

Know where your firewood is coming from. If you have freshly chopped firewood that may have been growing near poison ivy or oak, be careful and think twice about burning it. Also if you have broken out in a poison ivy or oak rash after handling firewood, that may be because the plant's oil is on the surface of the wood.

If you think you may have inhaled burning poison ivy or oak, seek medical attention immediately. Only a medical professional can administer proper treatment in such a case.

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55 comments for “Beware of burning poison ivy and oak”

  1. Posted 12/5/2011 at 12:25:31 AM
    Gravatar of Olivia

    This is a great article, and a great topic to explore. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Posted 1/2/2013 at 10:07:03 AM
    Gravatar of Anne

    Question: We are cutting down a tree that has a thick poison ivy vine going up it. It is winter time, so, the ivy is dormant. Further, we are yanking it off as we cut the tree down. Can we use the wood as firewood in our fireplace at home? Thanks!

  3. Posted 2/7/2013 at 1:02:01 PM
    Gravatar of chritine

    Yes. I had to go to the face and eyes and nasel passages were so swollen. I coulnt breath well.the doctor said someone was burning poison oak. And i must have gotton down wind of .it.the injection he gave me is working,although skowly.

  4. Posted 2/19/2013 at 9:07:45 AM
    Gravatar of Caileen

    Poison ivy oil, called urushiol, can stay on the surface that the poison ivy plant has come in contact with. I would suggest NOT taking the risk of burning it because if you inhale the urushiol it could result in a very bad allergic reaction.

  5. Posted 3/3/2013 at 3:59:24 PM
    Gravatar of Chris

    I've been burning plants and shrub cuttings from around my yard, I know I have poison oak in the yard and think I am almost killed it all. But now in the last week my legs swelled up to twice there size for four days and now my lungs are burning and I have a cronic cough, sore throat and fitigue. Is this a common reaction?

  6. Posted 3/4/2013 at 1:11:27 PM
    Gravatar of Lisa

    Chris - Burning poison oak can cause the rash causing oil, urushiol, to become airborne and result in you inhaling the allergen. This can cause a systemic allergic reaction and you need to consult your physician right away for proper treatment.

  7. Posted 6/26/2013 at 9:16:12 AM
    Gravatar of Mandy Ormsby

    I was hospitalized for two days with poison in my lungs, ears, nose, throat and eyes. It is very dangerous to burn poison ivy or oak. I was told by the doctors at Monongahela Valley Hospital that you could get phenomena from the poison in your lungs. I was on bed rest for three days and I had to take several allergy medicines and a steroid. I was told that the severity of my case could have caused death within 48 hours if I didn't seek treatment. Beware of what you are burning folks!

  8. Posted 11/17/2013 at 2:34:28 PM
    Gravatar of Tommie

    how long after cutting a tree { that had a poison ivy vine} will it be safe to use the firewood?

  9. Posted 12/24/2013 at 11:37:28 PM
    Gravatar of Scott

    How soon after being exposed to smoke containing urushiol would a respiratory reaction occur? I know a skin rash can take several days to fully emerge but would one know sooner if they were going to have internal issues?

  10. Posted 1/14/2014 at 2:18:55 PM
    Gravatar of Lisa

    We cannot say for certain if a your tree would be safe to burn. Urushiol can stay on surfaces for years and a very small amount can cause a big reaction. Trees that have poison plant oil on them should not be burned.

  11. Posted 1/14/2014 at 2:23:10 PM
    Gravatar of Lisa

    Reactions to urushiol can vary by individual depending on how sensitive they are to the plant’s oil. If you know you have been exposed to burning poison ivy or oak it is best to consult with a medical professional for guidance.

  12. Posted 3/24/2014 at 5:21:04 PM
    Gravatar of Ian harp

    How soon will you know if you have inhaled smoke that contained poison ivy? I farm and cleared Out a tree line today and burned the brush. I don't think had much vine in it and feel fine now just wanna b cautious.

  13. Posted 4/2/2014 at 12:02:44 PM
    Gravatar of Caileen

    If you think you may have inhaled the smoke from burning poison ivy plants, we urge you to see your doctor. This can be a very serious condition.

  14. Posted 5/2/2014 at 10:00:23 AM
    Gravatar of Caileen

    As mentioned above in the previous comments, if you think you may have inhaled smoke from burning poison oak or poison ivy plants, we urge you to see a physician. This could be a very serious condition.

  15. Posted 5/2/2014 at 10:05:54 AM
    Gravatar of Beth

    We burned some today my mom is 82 & I am 57 we were in the smoke bad today my throat was burning but I feel alright now what do you think?

  16. Posted 5/20/2014 at 1:58:18 AM
    Gravatar of Mike

    I burned a brush pile today that was completely covered with poison ivy, It was about 7 hours ago and I had some shortness of breath and my albutarol inhaler made it worse. Should I be concerned at this point or will I be alright if my symptoms have subsided for now?

  17. Posted 5/21/2014 at 7:39:47 AM
    Gravatar of Caileen

    As mentioned in the comments to this blog post, if you think you may have inhaled the smoke from burning poison ivy plants, we urge you to see your doctor. This can be a very serious condition.

  18. Posted 9/29/2014 at 7:31:54 PM
    Gravatar of Kevin

    I accidentally burned either poison Ivy or sumac probably about 8 years ago and that night my face swelled up like a puffer fish. I now have annual rashes that breakout on my body even though I'm nowhere near the stuff. Mostly in summer time when I sweat.

  19. Posted 10/7/2014 at 10:16:02 AM
    Gravatar of Caileen

    Kevin: Yikes! As mentioned in the article, never burn poison oak or ivy plants, inhaling the smoke is very harmful and potentially fatal. It sounds as if you may be experiencing systemic poison ivy rash, we would definitely recommend contacting your physician and discussing your symptoms with them!

  20. Posted 10/21/2014 at 5:11:32 PM
    Gravatar of Richard

    I was using a chainsaw on a tree trunk that had a poison ivy vine on it. If I inhaled some of the sawdust , would I have symptoms immediately?

  21. Posted 10/25/2014 at 10:54:30 AM
    Gravatar of Lisa lynn

    Thanks for all the advice. Just got over poison ivy rash about three months AGO. Didn't realize till I broke out that what I was chopping down was poison ivy n or oak in my back yard. Therefore, at that time I threw it all into a pile with a tree branches and bamboo trees I was chopping all at same time. Pile was intended, of course, to burn. Now three months later, I can't even pull good wood out of pile to burn. Does anyone have any recommendations on how I dispose of the huge brush pile. Can I spray any type of poison ivy killer on it to kill the urishol before burning. Like the stuff the kills the live plant. Also if I remove the large pile (somehow--ideas) Will ground underneath still have urishol remaining? Any advice would be greatly appreciated, being that I live in an Upsale neighborhood and they will not allow the pile to remain long past the "bonfire"season." However I am also tryin to be a responsible neighbor and not burn when it could be a serious detriment to others health if smoke is inhale. Do not want the rash back myself either. After a month, in the hot sweaty summer battling the itchy spreading Case, being I am allergic. Suggustions??? ---P.S. SORRY FOR SUCH A LONG POST,JUST WANTED TO COVER IT ALL!!

  22. Posted 10/28/2014 at 9:45:22 AM
    Gravatar of Caileen

    Richard: It is hard to say how soon you may or may not experience symptoms. There are so many factors that could play a role: how much was inhaled, your sensitivity to the plants, how many times you've been exposed to the plants in your lifetime, etc. If you start to experience any discomfort, trouble breathing, or a rash, we recommend contacting your physician right away.

  23. Posted 10/28/2014 at 1:03:43 PM
    Gravatar of Lisa

    Lisa Lynn,
    Unfortunately, plant killers will not neutralize the urushiol oil so it will still be unsafe to burn. I suggest you contact a company that specializes in lawn waste removal, as they should know how to dispose of contaminated tree branches. If your local garbage company picks up a yard waste container, you could collect the debris using a large garbage bag turning it inside out to minimize contact and put it in the yard waste container for disposal. Be sure to use protective gear and a dust mask while handling the yard debris.I recommend washing contaminated clothing with Tecnu Original following label directions.

  24. Posted 12/4/2014 at 5:25:01 AM
    Gravatar of Buster

    I cut down a 48" diameter river birch at my father's place that was way past its prime, and there were six poison ivy vines (ranging from 1/2" to 4 1/2") attached to the tree. My father believes that now that he tree has been down for 10 months that it is OK to burn the tree and the ivy. I disagree. Is there any documentation that I can use to reinforce my position? I have gotten a quote from a company to remove the tree and the poison ivy but being a man from the country, Dad thinks I am over doing it.

  25. Posted 12/5/2014 at 7:58:54 AM
    Gravatar of Caileen

    Buster: Urushiol, the oily resin from poison oak and ivy plants, does not evaporate and can last for months, even years and still cause a rash (or a more serious condition in the case of burning it). Even if the plant is dead, the urushiol still remains, and burning the plants can be fatal. You are correct in this situation, it is NEVER safe to burn poison oak and ivy.

  26. Posted 12/15/2014 at 7:40:46 AM
    Gravatar of Roger

    I have been cutting and burning wood sense the beginning of winter, I have a good bit of timber on my property that ive been using to heat my home, well this past week well about 3 days ago im pretty sure ive burned sumac, oak, or ivy not sure wich yet just broke out in a rash in a BAAD spot but what im really concerned with is if it got to my respitory system, 2 days ago the rash started yesterday I felt fine other than the itching but today I feel as if i worked an 20 hr shift and feel really fatigued and idk if its in my head or not but my throat feels kind of weird, would feeling tired be a symptom of inhaling poison?

  27. Posted 12/22/2014 at 8:07:09 AM
    Gravatar of Caileen

    Roger: If you think you may have inhaled smoke from burning poison oak, ivy, or sumac, we recommend contacting your physician as this can be a very serious condition.

  28. Posted 5/22/2015 at 6:34:27 PM
    Gravatar of Amy

    What are the chances of inhaling the oil if you cut the vine and then pull it off of the garage door?

  29. Posted 6/2/2015 at 3:33:46 PM
    Gravatar of Judith Resler

    When I was 20 yrs old, I pulled poison oak vines out of trees and burned them. Inhaled the smoke, spent 10 days in the hospital. Others there thought I was in a fire. Bad experience.

  30. Posted 6/5/2015 at 6:11:17 AM
    Gravatar of Ron

    Just had one of my Guys get it from breathing the Chainsaw Dust, Burning I knew but from a Saw I did not

  31. Posted 6/8/2015 at 2:54:11 PM
    Gravatar of Caileen

    Amy, we can't be sure what the chances are of that happening. However, if you think you may have inhaled urushiol (rash-causing oil from poison oak and ivy), we would recommend seeing your physician for the proper course of treatment.

  32. Posted 6/8/2015 at 3:03:47 PM
    Gravatar of Caileen

    Judith, so sorry to hear about your experience! It can be a very scary ordeal!

  33. Posted 6/8/2015 at 3:12:13 PM
    Gravatar of Caileen

    Sorry to hear about your guy, Ron! We hope he's been to see a physician and is on the mend!

  34. Posted 6/29/2015 at 6:28:42 PM
    Gravatar of Betty garrison payne

    if wearing a scarf around your face while burning poison ivy. will i be ok

  35. Posted 7/8/2015 at 5:12:58 PM
    Gravatar of Evelyn

    What can u do if u don't touch it but your eyes swell

  36. Posted 7/14/2015 at 9:16:57 AM
    Gravatar of Caileen

    Evelyn, if your eyes have swollen, that could be a sign of a very serious reaction. We would recommend seeking medical attention as soon as possible for the proper course of treatment.

  37. Posted 7/14/2015 at 9:23:19 AM
    Gravatar of Caileen

    Betty, We cannot be sure if a scarf is enough to protect you. Being that burning poison ivy can cause serious illness, we do not recommend burning it, ever.

  38. Posted 7/19/2015 at 11:23:55 AM
    Gravatar of Amy

    This was asked but not answered...we pulled our p.I. and had a landscaper remove the large pile. The pile was over our grass parking pad,does the oil bond or transfer to the ground or is it likely safe to walk on in . Flip flops?

  39. Posted 7/20/2015 at 8:55:35 PM
    Gravatar of chris

    some one told me rain can wash urishiol off wood. Is this true?

  40. Posted 7/27/2015 at 2:49:03 PM
    Gravatar of Caileen

    Amy, urushiol (rash-causing oil from poison oak and ivy) is a resin that does not evaporate. It can transfer to any item it comes into contact with, even grass. It wouldn't be a bad idea to wear shoes when walking through that area. Be sure to leave the shoes outside to avoid tracking urushiol into your house.

  41. Posted 7/27/2015 at 2:52:27 PM
    Gravatar of Caileen

    Chris, we have never tried or tested it, so if we said yes or no, it would be a guess. Urushiol is a sticky sappy oil, so a little rain probably wouldn't do much to remove it. Better safe than sorry.

  42. Posted 8/25/2015 at 5:33:53 AM
    Gravatar of Nicole

    I am very allergic to poison ivy. It was burned by someone in the neighborhood near my dorms and some hours later I went outside. The next day my skin broke out in a rash. There is so much or it on my legs that they look sunburned my knuckles look like I punched a wall. My arms have a classic looking poison ivy rash. It is also on my neck and face. I didn't inhale anything thank goodness but I only got it a little better because let me tell you head to toe poison ivy is not fun.

  43. Posted 8/28/2015 at 9:05:49 AM
    Gravatar of Caileen

    Nicole, it sounds like you are highly sensitive to poison ivy! We hope you sought medical attention for the proper course of treatment. Get well soon!

  44. Posted 9/10/2015 at 9:50:41 AM
    Gravatar of Brandon

    Where I live there is a lot of land clearing being done, this also means a lot of burning of these piles of brush. I can guarantee that many of these piles contain poison ivy as it is pretty heavy here. Was wondering if this is an issue for those people that drive past the burning piles along the highway. Does anyone know what the safe distance is before the burning urishiol drops to the ground.

  45. Posted 9/13/2015 at 7:32:10 AM
    Gravatar of Sheryl

    Husband cut down a lilac bush that was dead but I noticed that there was poison ivy by the tree, he burned a few pieces not knowing, now he looks like he has a chemical burn and it's spreading all over his body!

  46. Posted 9/24/2015 at 8:44:15 AM
    Gravatar of Caileen

    Brandon, it is possible, although we can't be sure how far urushiol travels when burning poison oak or ivy. As mentioned in the post, burning poison oak or ivy plants can cause serious illness, even death. It is best to avoid burning the plants whenever possible.

  47. Posted 9/24/2015 at 8:47:23 AM
    Gravatar of Caileen

    Sheryl, as mentioned in the post, inhaling burning poison oak or ivy plants can cause serious illness, injury, even death. If ever the smoke is inhaled, it is recommended to seek medical attention immediately.

  48. Posted 10/18/2015 at 4:48:29 PM
    Gravatar of Mike

    Hello, My dad made a bbq with wood from our back yard, Next day his skin around eyes were swollen, its been over a month and still has this problem, can this be maybe to poison oak on our back yard?

  49. Posted 10/22/2015 at 8:34:40 AM
    Gravatar of Caileen

    Mike: It is very possible. Your father should seek medical attention immediately. Inhaling smoke from burning poison oak and ivy can be very dangerous.

  50. Posted 11/20/2015 at 5:42:18 PM
    Gravatar of Jim

    I have poison that has been cut for over five years and it is a large pile. Is it safe to burn these dead vines after drying in five very dry and hot summers?

  51. Posted 11/24/2015 at 1:25:10 PM
    Gravatar of Caileen

    Jim, urushiol (rash-causing oil from poison oak and ivy) does not evaporate. Even when the vines of the plant have died, the urushiol is still active and it is never recommended to burn them.

  52. Posted 1/6/2016 at 1:14:12 PM
    Gravatar of Cheryl

    My neighbor has a wood furnace and his smoke comes over towards our way can I get poison ivy that way

  53. Posted 1/11/2016 at 10:29:52 AM
    Gravatar of Caileen

    Cheryl: If the wood your neighbor is burning does have urushiol on it, and you are exposed to the smoke, you could potentially inhale it.

  54. Posted 2/8/2016 at 2:48:33 PM
    Gravatar of Si

    Is the latency period for smoke inhalation the same as contact? Will smoke inhalation symptoms usually present quickies since inhaled?

  55. Posted 2/19/2016 at 9:58:08 AM
    Gravatar of Caileen

    Si: As far as we know, symptoms from smoke inhalation can present as soon as a couple of hours after inhalation, up to 48 hours later. If you think you may have inhaled smoke from burning poison oak or ivy, whether symptoms are presenting or not, we recommend seeking medical attention immediately for proper care and treatment.

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