Poison Ivy Relief: What Treatment Works Best?
Anyone who’s lived in mountainous or forested areas has probably contracted poison ivy at some point. If you’ve been fortunate enough to avoid this poisonous plant, contact with it causes an awful, itchy condition that seems to spread over your skin and sticks around for what feels like forever.
Fortunately, there are plenty of poison ivy relief treatments available, as people have been fighting this particular type of itchy rash for a long time. What treatment works best, and which should you choose? Let’s break down the best poison ivy treatments below.
What Is Poison Ivy?
When people talk about having poison ivy, what they actually mean is they have poison ivy rash. This rash is a type of allergic reaction, specifically to an oily resin found on the leaves, roots, and stems of a few different plants, including:
- poison ivy
- poison oak
- poison sumac
This plant oil is called “urushiol”.
The “poison” isn’t actually all that poisonous, as it doesn’t cause lasting harm in most cases. But, it can result in an itchy or inflamed rash that can spread quickly. It’s easy to contract poison ivy rash since the oil on these plants is quite sticky. Furthermore, poison ivy rash can last for a few weeks if you aren't careful, and don't take appropriate treatment measures.
What Are the Symptoms?
The symptoms of poison ivy may vary slightly from person-to-person because some people are more allergic to the poison ivy oil than others. However, general symptoms include:
- itching or irritation of affected tissue
- redness or swelling
- difficulty breathing- if you burn poison ivy and inhale the smoke
- swollen or watery eyes- if the oil gets on or near your eyelids
- swollen throat- if you swallow poison ivy
The skin rash typically appears as a straight line, though this isn’t because of any aspect of the plant itself. People just tend to brush along poison ivy leaves in this way, and usually get contact dermatitis as a result. However, because poison ivy rash can so easily be transferred, it can also appear splotchy depending on where and how it has spread.
Speaking of spreading, it’s very easy to spread poison ivy by scratching the affected tissue and then touching another unaffected part of your body. Many kids find this out when they contract a mild case of poison ivy and scratch themselves all over.
It usually takes between 12 to 48 hours for the poison ivy rash to appear on your skin. After contracting the rash, you can expect it to last between two to three weeks on average. Of course, severity depends on how much oil is smeared on your skin.
Thankfully, if you do develop blisters, the fluid within the blisters won’t spread the rash itself.
Do You Need to See a Doctor?
Generally, doctor visits for poison ivy are not necessary, especially since there are plenty of home remedies and basic treatment methods you can employ for mild to moderate poison ivy. However, you should contact your doctor if your reaction is particularly widespread or severe (for instance, if you fall into a bush of poison ivy and get the rash all over). You should also talk to your doctor if:
- The poison ivy rash affects your eyes, mouth, or genitals. These are sensitive tissues that might experience additional complications.
- The poison ivy rash affects your breathing after burning poison ivy leaves. In this case, swelling tissue or irritated tissue can lead to more serious side effects.
- Your blisters continually ooze pus or your skin continues to swell.
- Your rash doesn’t improve after a few weeks.
Ultimately however, most people will do just fine with home remedies and classic poison ivy treatments.
Poison Ivy Treatments
There are, thankfully, plenty of poison ivy treatments, and several that use natural ingredients to bolster the body’s normal recovery efforts, effectively outsmarting poison ivy. However, regardless of the treatment you use, you should take steps to ensure that the poison ivy doesn’t get worse. That means avoiding further poison ivy exposure and limiting general irritation on the affected skin.
You should wash the affected area immediately after you touch poison ivy, oak, or sumac. Rinse your skin in cool water, wash it with soap, and apply a wet compress. Be sure to wash your hands very thoroughly, or, even better, avoid touching the affected skin at all and wash the area with a brush or rag instead.
Whatever you do, don’t scratch the affected area! Scratching can all too easily spread oil remnants to other parts of your body, even if you wash the poison ivy patch well. Small microdroplets of oil might still remain under your fingernails and can be spread around unwittingly.
The first great poison ivy treatment is a salve, preferably with all-natural ingredients. Salves are soothing medicinal mixtures that include various herbs, infused oils, and often a type of wax product like beeswax.
Naturally, some salves are better than others. Green Goo’s Poison Ivy Salve is a perfect example. Not only can it treat general irritation and inflammation, it can also help you deal with excessive pain or itchiness, lessening the likelihood of the rash spreading around your body.
Furthermore, salves can lower the amount of oozing you experience if blisters crop up after being exposed to poison ivy oil. Even better, the salve works with other itchy skin conditions, so it’s great to have as a general skin itchiness remedy.
Salves are excellent aids overall since they’re easy to apply and can provide almost instantaneous comfort.
Creams and Lotions
Other good remedies include creams and lotions. These can be either over-the-counter varieties or home remedies depending on your available ingredients.
If you do get an over-the-counter cream or lotion, look for creams and lotions with cortisone and calamine, respectively. Both of these products can help relieve irritation and itchiness, though they require you to thoroughly wash and dry the area before application. Hydrocortisone creams and calamine lotion have compounds that work to neutralize the itchiness associated with the urushiol oil to provide maximum itch relief.
You can also make natural creams. For instance:
- Create a baking soda remedy by mixing baking soda with water at a 3 to 1 ratio
- Make a cucumber paste by mashing up slices of cucumber and applying the paste directly to the affected skin
- Aloe vera is a simple natural ingredient and is also great for itching relief. Rub some on your skin and you’ll also moisturize it for added benefit!
Oral antihistamines are drugs that include loratadine, found in drugs like Claritin, or diphenhydramine, found in Benadryl. Both of these can help reduce itching and irritation and are taken as oral pills. Many folks like these as treatments for poison ivy since they help them fall asleep too.
Whatever you do, don’t apply any antihistamine cream directly to your rash. This can spread the rash around or make the itching even worse.
It’s also a good idea to consult with your healthcare provider before taking antihistamines if you already take allergy medications or other prescription as these can sometimes be affected by or affect over the counter drugs like antihistamines.
These are ingredients that will dry up your poison ivy rash, essentially making your skin’s affected cells dry out and be replaced by healthy cells more quickly. Examples include witch hazel, apple cider vinegar, and the same baking soda and water paste described above.
Take a Soaking Bath
One last poison ivy treatment involves taking a bath. You can just soak the affected tissue in warm water for general itchiness relief. You can also add oatmeal to your bath if you want even more of a soothing effect.
In a nutshell, oatmeal has both soothing and antioxidant properties, though it’s rarely used for these needs these days. If you already have some oatmeal at home, you can add the oatmeal to a lukewarm bath and soak your affected skin in that solution. If you do decide to use this method, soak for up to 30 minutes in order to get the most relief.
You don’t even need to use that much oatmeal for full benefits, either. Oatmeal expands and soaks up water, so a few cups is usually enough for your skin to feel better, especially if you don’t fill the bathtub too high.
Ultimately, an oatmeal bath is a great solution for poison ivy since it uses natural ingredients and can even be combined with bath salts if you want a more comfortable experience. Green Goo has several great natural ingredient-based bath products that are perfect for this. Just be sure not to use rough or exfoliating soap on your rash, as this can irritate your skin even further.
Overall, the treatment options for poison ivy vary, but the most important step is not touching the affected area, no matter how much it itches. Most people experience extended poison ivy itchiness because they can’t stop themselves from spreading the rash around, or they don’t try to treat the initial rash.
Taking care of the rash and being careful about scratching will go a long way to help you recover from poison ivy much more quickly.