No outdoorsman or camping enthusiast is a stranger to the threats posed by Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans or Toxicodendron rydbergii – depending upon which part of the globe you are in), Poison Oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum) or Poison Sumac (Toxicodendron vernix). All of these plants belong to the same family and they produce a resin (an oily substance) called urushiol that most humans are allergic to. People who come in contact with it will develop an itchy rash.
Identify the Symptoms
People may display any of the following symptoms within 12 to 72 hours after coming into contact with the aforementioned plants:
- Redness, accompanied by itchiness and swelling.
- There may be an outbreak of blisters as well. If this happens, it can either be bumpy, patchy or linear. It will depend upon the amount of urishiol the person came in contact with, along with the pattern of the contact.
- If someone inhales the smoke caused by burning poison ivy, he may face some difficulty breathing as well.
Home Remedies for Poison Ivy, Oak or Surmac
Usually, an outbreak of poison ivy, oak and sumac can easily be brought under control by undertaking any of the following home remedies.
- Take a Shower
Besides applying rubbing alcohol, taking a shower is a great way to get rid of urishiol or preventing it from spreading to other parts of the body. Take a bar of soap and keep scrubbing the point of contact to scrape off as much of this offending resin as you possibly can.
While taking a shower, make sure that the water is cold or lukewarm, but never hot! This is because high temperatures tend to open up your pores, allowing the resin to seep even deeper in your skin, making your irritation a lot worse in the process!
You also need to immerse your clothes and your shoes in water so that none of the urishiol spreads to your carpet or your furniture. You need not discard them however, as water tends to neutralize the potency of this resin.
- Rubbing Alcohol
Dr. Kathryn A. Zug, practicing dermatologist at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, NH says that as soon as someone comes in contact with poison ivy, they should immediately clean the area with some rubbing alcohol, as it serves as a solvent for urishiol and would help prevent the rash from spreading. If you are lucky enough to apply this immediately after coming in contact with poison ivy, then it may stop the rash from forming altogether!
Please note that in case of an outbreak, rubbing alcohol will not provide any relief from the itch. However, as it is a strong astringent, it will definitely get rid of the outbreak. It also has strong anti-microbial properties, hence if your blisters pop, then it will protect the area from secondary infections.
Simply pour a few drops of rubbing alcohol into a cotton ball and rub it vigorously on the affected area. If there is a visible rash then be extremely gentle while applying rubbing alcohol.
If you do not have any rubbing alcohol, then you can use gasoline (petrol) or vodka instead!
- Lemon Juice
Lemon juice has the ability to absorb urishiol, which can help minimize the symptoms of poison ivy, if applied immediately.
Simply slice a lemon in half and scrub the affected area with it!
- Calamine Lotion
This is a classic remedy for poison ivy. Calamine lotion has emollient, antiseptic and mild astringent properties. This provides the sufferer with some welcome relief from the itch, its antiseptic properties can prevent the area from secondary infections. If the blisters pop then it slowly dries the blisters the as well!
One should not apply the calamine lotion as soon as they come into contact with poison ivy, but should wait for the itch to appear. Once the area does start itching, a very thin film should be applied. This is because too much calamine may block the pores, which may lead to a host of other skin afflictions.
- Capsaicin Cream
As the name suggests, capsaicin cream contains capsaicin, a compound that makes hot peppers “hot”. Besides making your taste-buds come alive, capsaicin is also known for its anti-inflammatory properties that are useful for treating a rash caused by poison ivy.
It will burn a bit on initial application; however it is advisable to bear through it as the eventual relief will be far greater than what is possible via calamine lotion.
Oatmeal contains avenanthramides and phenol, both known for their emollient and anti-inflammatory properties. To get relief from the symptoms of poison ivy, you can use oatmeal via an oatmeal paste, an oatmeal compress and also by taking oatmeal baths.
- Oatmeal paste: It is very easy to apply this treatment:
- Cook some oatmeal and make sure that it is quite thick.
- Cool the cooked oatmeal to a lukewarm stage and apply it on the affected area as a paste. Make sure that it is not too hot; otherwise it may cause your blisters to pop or may even burn your skin.
- Keep it on for about thirty minutes before you wash it off.
- Oatmeal compress: Using oatmeal compresses is another way to get relief from poison ivy:
- Take a bowl and place a piece of cotton or nylon cloth in it.
- Pour a handful of uncooked oatmeal in this cloth and pour some lukewarm water in it.
- Let the mixture steep for about 5 minutes.
- Tie the cloth to form a poultice and squeeze out the excess water. Gently press against the rashes.
- Oatmeal baths: It is also highly recommended that one takes oatmeal baths, if they are suffering from poison ivy:
- Turn on the faucet in your bath-tub and wait till the tub is almost quarter full. Make sure that the water is lukewarm.
- Take a piece of cheesecloth and pour a handful of oatmeal into it and tie it under the nozzle in such a way that the water has to pass through it once you turn the faucet back on.
- Turn the faucet back on and fill the tub. Make sure that the water is still lukewarm.
- Step into the bathtub and take a relaxing bath for about 15 minutes. You may also use the poultice as a loofah on the affected area.
- Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV)
Besides being famous for its anti-microbial properties, organic ACV is also an astringent, which will extract the urishiol from your skin, thus providing long term relief from the symptoms of poison ivy.
Simply dilute ACV with equal parts of water and then apply it on the affected area. It should sting for a few seconds, but relief will follow soon after.
Before you apply this treatment, you need to make sure that you are not allergic or overtly sensitive to ACV. Apply some diluted ACV to an unaffected part of your skin. If you feel a burning sensation that stays for an uncomfortably long period of time, then this treatment is not right for you.
For best results, use organic ACV that has the “mother of vinegar” still in it. You can easily find it at your local health store and is available over the internet as well. If by any chance you are unable to procure any, you may use white vinegar instead.
- Aloe Vera
Aloe Vera’s cooling, soothing, anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties make it an excellent option for treating rashes caused by poison ivy. Simply take the leaf of an aloe plant and chop of the rinds to take it apart. Scrape the natural aloe gel and apply it on the affected area. Let your skin absorb all of it.
If you cannot get hold of an aloe plant, then try to procure a bottle of organic aloe gel from your local health store and use that instead. If the drugstore is all out of aloe, you can purchase a bottle of organic witch hazel and use that instead.
All kinds of salt, be it the common table salt, Himalayan Crystal salt (just an expensive variant of the table salt) or Epsom salt (Magnesium sulfate) have strong astringent and anti-microbial properties. They can help dry the area and if your blisters pop, then they can protect the area from secondary infections as well.
You can create a briny solution by mixing a few tablespoons of a salt of your choice in a mug of water and use a cotton ball to apply the solution on the outbreak. You can also mix a cup of salt in a bathtub filled with lukewarm water and soak yourself in it for about twenty minutes.
You can take this bath a couple of times during the course of the day. However, as mentioned earlier in this article, ensure that the water is never hot!
- Baking Soda
Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) is another powerful astringent that can help treat the rash caused by poison ivy. Mix three teaspoons of baking soda with one teaspoon of water to form a coarse paste and apply it on the affected area. You can also mix half a cup of baking soda into a bathtub filled with lukewarm water and soak yourself in it.
Tea, either green or black has generous quantities of tannic acid, which is an astringent. There are a couple of ways in which you can use tea bags to treat the symptoms of poison ivy.
After you have used tea bags to prepare a cup of tea, put them in the freezer for a few minutes to cool them down. Apply the cold tea bags on the affected area. Feel free to apply this as often as you would like.
You can also put about 12 teabags in a bathtub filled with lukewarm water and soak yourself in it for about 20 minutes.
Coffee contains chlorogenic acid, which has anti-inflammatory properties. Brew a strong cup of black coffee and then cool it in a fridge. Apply the cold coffee with a cotton ball on the affected area as many times as you would like!
Dr. Alan Dattner, a holistic dermatologist from New York says that acorns contain tannins as well, which can be used to treat the symptoms of poison ivy. Simply crack a few acorns and boil them in water. Strain the liquid and cool it in a fridge. Apply the cold acorn tea to the affected area with a cotton ball. You may apply this treatment as often as you would like.
Cucumber is known for its soothing and mild emollient properties; hence it can be used to get some relief from the itching sensation caused by the rash from poison ivy. You can either use cucumber slices or a cucumber paste to get relief.
- Cucumber slices: Chop up cucumbers in circular slices (the way they appear in a salad) and gently place them on your rash. Use medical tapes to hold them in place. Keep them on till the slices are dry to the touch. This treatment can be applied several times during the course of the day.
- Cucumber paste: Throw some pieces of cucumbers in a blender to make a thick paste. Apply this paste on the affected area and hold it in place using gauze and medical tapes. Keep it on for at least thirty minutes. Feel free to apply this treatment as many times as you would like.
- Ice Packs/Cold compresses
This is another great way to get some relief from the itch. If you own an ice-pack, apply it on the affected area for a few minutes every hour. The cold from the ice constricts your blood vessels, thus significantly reducing the flow of the allergens that is causing you to itch.
If you do not own an ice-pack, take a napkin or a hand-towel, soak it in water, lock it in a Ziploc or a similar sandwich bag and put it in the freezer for about fifteen minutes. Feel free to apply this on your rash the same way you would apply an ice-pack.
You can also wrap a few ice-cubes in a washcloth or use a bag of frozen vegetables.
- Whole Milk
According to Dr. Robert Sommer, a practicing dermatologist from Portland, ME, cold compresses with whole milk instead of water is also extremely effective for getting some relief from the symptoms of poison ivy. Please note that this treatment needs to be used in conjunction with the other home remedies as it provides some relief from the itch, but does not cure the underlying symptoms. Following is how you will apply this treatment:
- Soak a hand-towel in some whole milk and then wring the excess milk from it. The cloth should be damp, not runny.
- Apply it on the affected area for about 15 minutes. The cold provides some relief from the itch whereas the fat from the milk acts as a lubricant.
- Wash the area with some lukewarm water.
- Banana Peels
There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that rubbing the inside of a banana peel on the rash may provide some relief from poison ivy. This does not have any side effects (besides the sticky feeling) hence you may feel free to use this as many times as you would like.
The rinds of a watermelon can be used exactly the same way as well.
Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) is an herb that grows naturally in the wild. This may prove to be a figurative life-saver if you accidentally rub against some poison ivy while on a hiking trail. This is what jewelweed looks like. It is about 3 to 5 ft. tall, has oval-shaped green leaves with an edge that looks serrated. While in full-bloom, jewelweed has a trumpet-shaped bright-orange or yellow flower and it looks like a jewel is hanging from a necklace (hence the name).
If you are in the wild, crush some leaves from the jewelweed plant and apply it at the point of contact. Tie a handkerchief or a hand-towel around it to hold it in place.
If you have brought back some jewelweed leaves with you, (or if it grows on your backyard) then do the following:
- Brew jewelweed leaves in boiling water till the liquid turns dark.
- Pour this liquid in ice-trays and freeze them.
- Periodically rub one of these ice-cubes on the rash to expedite the healing process. Make sure you do this in short bursts as increased exposure to the ice-cubes may damage your skin further!
Goldenseal, also known as wild curcuma (Hydrastis canadensis) is an herb that is native to North America. It can treat a wide variety of skin ailments, including the symptoms of poison ivy due to its astringent, anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties.
There are a few different ways by which you can apply this treatment:
- You can mix powdered goldenseal root with some warm lukewarm water to form a paste and apply it on the affected area.
- Goldenseal root can also be brewed into a tea, which will help you fight the affliction from the inside.
- Goldenseal supplements are available at your local health store as well!
Please note that consuming goldenseal root is not recommended for pregnant women as it may stimulate the uterus. People suffering from high blood pressure should refrain from consuming goldenseal as well!
- Antihistamines (OTC)
The incessant itching may make it really hard for you to fall asleep. As the rash or blisters caused by poison ivy, oak or sumac are an allergic reaction, taking some over the counter (OTC) antihistamines right before you go to bed may provide some temporary relief and may induce drowsiness, thus allowing you to fall asleep!
How Long Does the Rash Last?
Most rashes caused by poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac are mild and last anywhere between5 to 12 days. However, in severe cases the rash may last for up to 30 day, or even longer.
When to See a Doctor
If you have inhaled the smoke from a burning poison ivy plant, then you need to seek the help of a doctor right away. Besides that, you should also consult a physician during the following circumstances:
- The swelling or rashes are appearing on your eyes, nose, throat, mouth or genitals.
- If there is pus in your blisters.
- If the blisters are not responding to the home remedies, provided they have been continuously applied for a week.
- If the sufferer develops a fever greater than 100 F (37.8 C)