Treat Poison Ivy and Poison Oak

Sunday, August 3, 2008

f you ever get into poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac or if you’re having a reaction to one of these plants now, you'll do anything to get rid of the itching. Don’t worry: you’ll get relief in two to three weeks, when poison ivy symptoms usually go away by themselves! Of course if that’s too long to wait—and it is—read on for assistance. Note: for brevity, the following steps refer only to poison ivy, but treatment for poison oak or poison sumac is the same; urushiol, the oil responsible for the allergic reaction, is present in all three plants.

Prevent a poison ivy reaction. Read Prevent Getting Poison Ivy for tips on how to avoid poison ivy and how to wash it off if you’ve just had contact with it.
Visit a physician if you have a known severe allergy to poison ivy or if you experience severe symptoms. Some people react particularly strongly to poison ivy. For these cases, or if you have a reaction over a large part of your body or on your genitals, a doctor may prescribe an oral corticosteroid, but don’t wait too long, as this treatment is most effective if taken soon after exposure. If you experience a fever, swelling of the mouth and nose, difficulty breathing or swallowing, or tightness in the chest, you should seek emergency medical care.
Avoid scratching. As soon as you find out that you have poison ivy (usually 24-48 hours after you have been exposed to it) you'll start getting a rash and blisters.
Wash as soon as possible with a product to remove the rash causing substance urushiol. Urushiol is a resin-like substance that stubbornly attaches itself to skin in about 10-15 minutes and becomes nearly impossible to get off with soap and water. Tecnu Extreme is a poison oak and ivy scrub that removes urushiol. Just use it at a sink to wash exposed skin or hop in a shower with it and go to town, washing your entire body with it--even areas where the rash hasn't broken out yet.
Apply topical hydrocortisone cream. A strong over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream can relieve the itching and swelling associated with poison ivy, particularly if used in the early days of a reaction. Some people find that hydrocortisone cream makes the symptoms worse in the long run. While the ingredients work for several hours, these creams tend to moisturize the skin at a time when drying provides longer-lasting relief. Still, make sure you use a product to remove the urushiol before your use hydrocortisone creams. Otherwise the urushiol may still be on the skin and can spread by getting on sheets and towels, or by scratching.

A poison ivy rash
A poison ivy rash
Apply calamine lotion. As the Coasters said in their immortal song Poison Ivy, "You’re gonna need an ocean / of calamine lotion." Calamine lotion can ease the itching and soothe blistered skin. Apply regularly and liberally. Far advanced over calamine lotions are products that contain diphenhydramine hydracholoride. Look for a product that has an antiseptic in it, too. That will help keep the rash area from being infected. Unfortunately, these types of products only treat the symptom--which is the rash. That's why they should be used after you have used a product to remove the urushiol.
Take a shower with an urushiol removing product. They remove the urushiol so the rash won't spread. If the rash has started, use a urushiol removing product immediately. You may be able to lessen the severity of the rash and dramatically shorten the time it takes to heal.
Apply cool, wet compresses. Moisten a clean washcloth in cool water and apply to skin for several minutes. Re-moisten the cloth as needed to keep it cool. Using cold whole milk instead of water has proven more effective for some people, and an ice compress can relieve particularly nasty swelling or burning.
Take oral antihistamines to help you sleep. Antihistamines, such as Benadryl, generally offer only mild relief from the symptoms of poison ivy, but if taken before bedtime their combination of anti-allergy and drowsiness-inducing effects can help you get some rest.
Contact your doctor for a cortizone shot in extreme cases. Along with other medication your doctor can prescribe, this will alleviate all symptoms within a few days. It will get rid of the itching within just a few hours. Generally, this will relieve all symptoms for a couple of weeks.

At night, trouble sleeping may occur. If you have had enough of the hot water remedies, try soaking your feet in an ice bath for 10-15 seconds at a time.
If you use hot water to substitute for scratching, higher water pressure and temperature will increase the pleasurable "scratching" sensation. Using water that is slightly cooler then scalding can provide 2-3 hours of relief from itching.
Poison ivy blisters are not contagious. The only way you can contract or spread the poison ivy rash is by coming into contact with urushiol. As long as the skin is thoroughly cleaned so that none of this oil remains, there is no danger of spreading the poison ivy reaction to other parts of the body or to other people.
If your child gets into poison ivy, oak, or sumac, cut his or her fingernails very short to minimize skin damage from scratching.
A quick internet search (or a conversation with your friends and neighbors) can yield a ton of home remedies: aloe, vinegar, salt water, and vitamins, to name just a few. Sometimes these work, and sometimes they don’t. If the steps above aren’t working for you, however, you may want to experiment with some of these.
Swimming in a pool with chlorine may assist. The chlorine cleans and disinfects the rash. Spend as much time as possible in the pool. Try at least 3-4 hours at a public pool. After doing this the itching will usually stop completely, it will start to go away within days, and will barely spread.
Bleach also seems to work well when it comes to treating poison. If the poison is on your hand, find a small bowl and soak your hand in it for several minutes. It will sting quite a bit, but it would clean it right out. If you have poison elsewhere on your body, fill the cap with bleach and cup it against your skin. Just don't spill any on your clothes or carpet!!! Be sure to wash yourself off afterwards and apply calamine lotion or even Neosporin if the skin is broken.
Taking a 2-3 minute shower in cool water can help stop a poison oak/ poison ivy rash from spreading. The cool water tightens and sometimes even closes your pores, whereas hot water would open them and possibly make the rash worse.
Make a paste of St. John's Wort and apply to the itchy area to get several hours relief from itching. St. John's Wort can be found in the wild, or you can find it is a dried powder in gel capsules sold as an over-the-counter nutritional supplement. Make sure you get gel capsules, not pills. (St. John's Wort is a folk remedy for many skin conditions.)
Surprisingly, poison ivy and oak are related to the mango tree and its fragrant, succulent fruit. In locations where mangoes grow (e.g. Hawaii), travelers with a history of poison ivy or poison oak dermatitis will often develop the same rash on their hands, extremities, or corners of their mouth if they are exposed to the skin (from peeling the mango skin with their teeth), or contact sticky mango sap (while picking from a tree). If you have a history of poison ivy/oak rashes, let someone else pick the mangoes and prepare them - then you can enjoy the flesh without an itchy, weeping red rash.

Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions and the advice of your doctor or pharmacist when using prescription or non-prescription medications.
Use common sense when trying home remedies. Some of the suggestions you may hear or read about may actually be harmful, so exercise caution and ask your doctor’s advice before trying anything questionable.
Do not apply ice to skin for more than a few minutes at a time.
Do not apply calamine lotion or topical creams around the eyes or on the genitals unless recommended by your doctor.
Keep open sores clean to prevent infection. If infection does appear, contact your doctor.
Don't take a bath when you have poison oak or ivy because the rash causing substance urushiol, which can come off your skin during a soak, can float on top of the water and re-attach itself to your skin when you rise from a bath.

Things You'll Need

Calamine lotion, Burrow's Solution
Clean washcloth
Topical hydrocortisone cream
A product to remove urushiol from the skin
cotton swabs
money to buy all of the above


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