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Roughly 1 in 3 people in the United States will have shingles in their lifetime, making it one of the most common viral illnesses in older adults.

Poison ivy rash is one of the most common dermatological conditions in the United States, affecting up to 50 million people each year.

While shingles and poison ivy can both cause a blistering rash, there are significant differences in symptoms between the two conditions.

In this article, we’ll explore how to tell the difference between shingles and poison ivy, including the symptoms, treatment, and prevention for each condition.

Although shingles and poison ivy may appear similar at first glance, there are definitive differences between the symptoms of shingles and the symptoms of poison ivy rash.

A viral shingles infection generally presents with a specific type of blistery rash that’s accompanied by other symptoms of malaise, such as pain, fever, chills, and headaches.

An allergic poison ivy rash may look similar, but is usually more localized and doesn’t cause symptoms of feeling unwell.

The chart below outlines the primary differences between a shingles infection and a poison ivy rash.

ShinglesPoison ivy
red, skin-colored, or dark rash (depending on skin tone)xx
nerve painx

Here’s a gallery of images comparing rashes caused by shingles and poison ivy.

Shingles is a viral infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus. Varicella-zoster virus is the same virus that causes chickenpox, another viral infection that primarily affects children.

In adults who have previously had chickenpox, this virus can reactivate and lead to a shingles infection.


Shingles is characterized by pain, burning, and a rash that often appears on the spine, torso, neck, and face. Other symptoms of shingles may include:

  • fluid-filled blisters on the rash
  • fever
  • chills
  • headaches
  • fatigue
  • weakness


Shingles is a viral infection, which means it doesn’t have a cure. However, early treatment can help improve recovery and lower the risk of long-term complications. Treatment options for shingles may include:

  • Antiviral medications. Antivirals such as acyclovir, valacyclovir, and famciclovir can help reduce pain and speed up recovery time.
  • Anti-inflammatory medications. Anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen can help reduce inflammation and pain.
  • Pain medications. Analgesics, certain narcotics, and even numbing creams can also help reduce pain, especially skin pain.

Most shingles infections resolve within 3 to 5 weeks and symptoms can be managed with medications. If your symptoms don’t resolve or get worse, visit a doctor. In rare cases, long-term complications such as hearing loss, vision loss, or postherpetic neuralgia can occur.


Vaccination is the best form of protection against both chickenpox and shingles. Those age 50 and older can receive Shingrix, which is a two-dose vaccine that offers protection against shingles.

Adults who have never had chickenpox or received the chickenpox vaccine should receive Varivax, a chickenpox vaccine, instead.

While vaccination against shingles may not always prevent the infection, it can still help prevent serious symptoms and long-term complications.

Poison ivy is a plant that contains a type of oil called urushiol, which is known for causing an allergic reaction that results in a blistery, itchy rash.

Poison ivy sap, which contains the rash-causing oil, is easily spread through direct contact with the plant as well as direct contact with anything else the plant has touched.


Poison ivy rash is characterized by a rash, often accompanied by fluid-filled blisters, anywhere on the skin the plant has touched. This rash may appear red, skin-colored, or dark, depending on your skin tone.

Other symptoms of poison ivy rash may include:

  • swelling
  • itching
  • difficulty breathing, if exposed to burning poison ivy


Poison ivy rash isn’t usually dangerous and can generally be treated at home with over-the-counter medications, such as antihistamines and topical steroids. When treating poison ivy rash at home, follow these steps:

  • Wash skin and clothing. Any area of the skin that has come in contact with poison ivy should be washed gently, to remove any residual sap. Any affected clothing should also be removed and washed.
  • Take an antihistamine. Oral antihistamines, such as Claritin, Benadryl, or Zyrtec, can potentially reduce itchiness from the allergic reaction.
  • Soothe affected skin. Antihistamines aren’t always enough to stop the rash from being itchy or blistery. In this case, oatmeal baths, wet compresses, and topical corticosteroids and other topical creams can help soothe the skin and reduce symptoms.

Often, a poison ivy rash will clear up on its own within 2 to 3 weeks and symptoms can be managed with the treatment options mentioned above. However, if your rash has spread, or you experience other symptoms of an allergic reaction, visit a doctor immediately.


Poison ivy rash prevention begins by knowing how to identify poison ivy and avoiding any contact with the plant. When out in nature, you can avoid touching poison ivy by wearing long sleeves or pants and cleaning any affected clothing or objects.

If you know the location of a poison ivy vine or bush, you can attempt to carefully remove the plant or have a professional remove it for you.

Ultimately, shingles causes a variety of symptoms that aren’t found with a typical poison ivy rash, including pain, fever, headache, and more.

Shingles is also commonly found in adults age 50 and older, while poison ivy commonly affects people of all ages, from children to older adults.

If you’ve noticed a new rash accompanied by new or developing symptoms, visit a doctor as soon as possible to receive the appropriate treatment for your condition.