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!