For outdoor aficionados and novices alike, coming into contact with poison ivy is almost inevitable. How can you spot this nuisance of a plant? Look for clusters of three pointed leaves. They will be tinted red in the spring, green in the summer, and various shades of red, yellow, or orange in the autumn.
Poison Ivy is notorious for causing itchy, uncomfortable rashes in 85 percent of the people who come into contact with it. Did you know that the reaction is an allergic dermatitis response to an oil called urushiol in the plant? This oil is found in every part of it, including leaves, stems, and roots. In fact, poison ivy is the most common allergen in the United States, impacting roughly 50 million Americans each year.
The good news is that it is not contagious unless the oil itself spreads. The bad news is that urushiol oil is clingy and persistent. It will adhere to almost anything, so beware! If you or someone you know contracts the rash, pay attention to:
- Camping gear
- Gardening tools
- Cell Phones
So You Have Poison Ivy…Now What?
The end of this article explains when to seek medical care. But, what about mild cases? Before rushing to apply corticosteroid and calamine creams or taking antihistamines, consider your options. These over-the-counter medications are costly, especially if you are prone to poison ivy contact or if your whole family developed the rash. However, in many cases, home remedies are gentler, safer, and equally effective at treating the rash that comes with poison ivy. Give some of the methods below a chance.
- Must-Do First Step: Rinse Well
The first step to limit the consequences of this plant is to rinse the affected area with soap and water. Cold water is best, because it will close pores to prevent further absorption into your system. The sooner you rinse, the better. Do not be stingy with that soap and water; you want a thorough removal of urushiol oil. If you come into contact with poison ivy at the beach, use wet sand to scrub the area and soak it in seawater. Though not ideal, it is better than leaving it unattended. Remember: This remedy is all about avoiding the spread, so make sure not shower off. That will worsen exposure by dragging contaminants down your body. That does not sound fun, right?
- Rubbing Alcohol
After rinsing with water, dab rubbing alcohol over the affected area. This stops the spread of poison ivy and prevents the rash from worsening in severity and spreading. Think of it as a sealant.
- Bask in Baking Soda
Inexpensive and a staple in every home remedy expert’s kit, baking soda helps reduce blistering and swelling. The best part about it? No stinging! There are two main ways to use it to combat issues related to Poison Ivy and rash:
- Soak in it. In a tub of warm water, add ½ to 1 cup of baking soda.
- Paste it. Combine a few teaspoons of baking soda with a bit of water. When it reaches the right consistency, apply it to the rash.
- Cool with Cucumber
Be as cool as a cucumber by placing slices on the rash. Or, if you are feeling fancy, make a paste out of the cucumber and apply topically. Who knew poison ivy would lead to an at-home spa day?
- Practical Plant Knowledge: Jewelweed
Nature may have given you poison ivy and a gnarly rash to go with it, but nature also have you jewelweed to counteract it. Jewelweed is a plant that grows near poison ivy and naturally cures you of its toxins. Look out for a low growing leafy bush with yellow and orange flowers shaped like bells. Crush up this weed into a paste, then smear it across your rash. Once the paste dries out, replace it with more paste. Repeat for as long as you can.
- Clarifying Himalayan Salt
Salt is a natural cleaning agent that relieves itching and helps dry out blisters by pulling extra liquid and toxins out of your skin. To use this remedy, make a soak. Try adding ½ of a cup of salt and some essential oil — try lavender or tea tree –to warm bath water.
- Astringent Properties of Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar (ACV) helps draw out toxins from rash, and its antibiotic properties aid in cleansing skin and drying up blisters. To use this ingredient, try soaking a brown paper bag in ACV, before placing it on the affected area. Just be careful to dilute ACV before use on open sores and raw, delicate skin.
- Good Old Oatmeal Bath
Although several home treatments on this list recommend soaking in good for you ingredients, the oatmeal bath might be the original option. Grind 1 cup of oatmeal in your blender to create a fine powder. Pour the powder in cheesecloth or a nylon stocking. Knot it. Toss it in your tub and soak for about 30 minutes. Some say that applying this pouch of oatmeal directly to the rash is even more beneficial.
- Sooth with Aloe Vera
You know that aloe vera plant hanging out on your windowsill? Start using it in your home remedies! Break open a leaf of the plant and apply the gel directly to your skin. If you do not have access to the plant, buy aloe vera in gel form from your local pharmacy or health store.
When to See Your Doctor
Most cases of poison ivy clear up with proper at home care. However, it is important to see a doctor in certain circumstances:
- Rash or swelling near eyes, mouth, butt rash or genitals
- Covers over 25 percent of skin
- Does not improve after 7 to 10 days
- Contains pus or yellow scabs
- Difficulty breathing
- Difficulty swallowing
If the rash is widespread and results in a large number of blisters, your doctor may prescribe an oral corticosteroid such as prednisone. If a bacterial infection developed at the site of the rash may be prescribed an oral antibiotic.