While both shingles and poison ivy can cause a blistering rash, shingles can also cause flu-like symptoms and burning, along with other symptoms.

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.

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.

Shingles and poison ivy rashes may appear similar at first glance.

But, a viral shingles infection generally presents with a specific type of blistery rash accompanied by flu-like symptoms, such as fever and chills. You may also have nerve pain, which doesn’t occur with poison ivy.

An allergic poison ivy rash may look similar but is usually more localized and doesn’t cause you to feel 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.

Learn more about what causes the shingles virus to reactivate.


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

Learn more about early shingles symptoms.


Shingles is a viral infection and 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
  • anti-inflammatory medications
  • pain medications

Most shingles infections resolve within 3 to 5 weeks, and medications can help manage symptoms.

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.

Shingrix, the shingles vaccine, offers protection from shingles in a two-dose vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend Shingrix for adults 50 and older and adults 19 and older with weakened immune systems.

Vaccination against shingles can reduce your risk of infection, severe symptoms, and long-term complications if you do get shingles. Learn more about getting the shingles vaccine.

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

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, easily spreads through direct contact with the plant and with anything else the plant has touched.


Poison ivy causes a rash often accompanied by fluid-filled blisters anywhere on the skin the plant has touched. Depending on your skin tone, this rash may appear red, skin-colored, brown, or purple.

Other symptoms of poison ivy rash may include:

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


Poison ivy rash usually isn’t dangerous. You can generally treat it at home with over-the-counter medications, such as antihistamines and topical steroids. When treating poison ivy rash at home, try:

  • Washing skin and clothing: Gently wash any area of the skin that has come in contact with poison ivy to remove any residual sap. You should also remove and wash any affected clothing.
  • Taking an antihistamine: Oral antihistamines, such as Claritin, Benadryl, or Zyrtec, can potentially reduce itchiness from the allergic reaction.
  • Soothing the affected skin: Oatmeal baths, wet compresses, 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.

Learn about home remedies for poison ivy.


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.

Shingles causes symptoms not found with a typical poison ivy rash, including pain, fever, headache, and more.

Shingles is also commonly found in adults 50 and older, while poison ivy more commonly affects people of all ages, from children to older adults, if they’ve spent time outdoors in an area where it grows.

If you’ve noticed a new rash accompanied by new or developing symptoms, talking with a doctor as soon as possible can help you receive the appropriate treatment.