What Causes the Rash?
Poison ivy, oak or sumac causes a rash when it comes into contact with skin. The rash is caused by an oil in the plant called urushiol. This oil makes it way to your skin and causes an itchy red rash that can be extremely bothersome. While most outbreaks can be treated at home, make sure to go to the doctor immediately when the rash worsens, spreads over most of your body, or finds its way into your mouth, eyes or lungs.
The best method to treat poison ivy and oak is to avoid contact in the first place. Before heading out into the woods wear clothing to cover the skin that could potentially brush up against the poisonous plant. Long pants and shirts, along with sneakers are recommended for trekking into any area with poison ivy. You could also apply an ivy block barrier which prevents the skin fro absorbing the oil.
You must also recognize these plants before going into the woods. Poison ivy has three leaves and are usually tinted red. Check the middle stem where the three leaves grow outward from - if the tip is red, you've got poison ivy on your hands.
#2 Treat Immediately
If you know you've had contact with poison ivy or oak treat immediately. Rinse off with cold water, whether it be from a hose, ocean, stream or lake. If rinsed off soon enough, you may be able to get the oil off of your skin to prevent rash and further spreading. If available, proceed to wash off the area with soap and rubbing alcohol. At the same time, clean everything else that may have been in contact with the oil - electronics, clothes, hair, etc.
Continue to wash the affected area for up to 15 minutes with the coldest water you can. Cold water closes the pores and prevents the spread of the rash. Going along with this idea, cover the area with an ice pack after washing.
#3 Don't Scratch
It is of utmost importance that you do not scratch the itchy rash. As much as you may want to, scratching irritates the blisters and spreads the oil. There are several methods to treating the itch. The first is applying a topical cream after the rash turns itchy, these include hydrocortisone or calamine lotion. Taking antihistamines can also help as poison ivy causes an allergic reaction upon contact. Antihistamines provide temporary relief and if taken before bed, can help you get a better nights sleep.
#4 Home Remedies for the Itch
There are several home remedies to reduce the rash after exposure. Here are a few:
- Baking soda paste: Mix three parts baking soda and one part water to spread over the rash. For best results, apply every few hours.
- Vinegar: Dab vinegar over the rash as it can help with many kinds of wounds. Let the vinegar evaporate and reapply.
- Oatmeal bath: Take a quick lukewarm oatmeal bath to relieve the rash.
- Dairy: Yogurt and buttermilk can be applied to the rash to draw out the fluid from the blisters.
- Cold Coffee: Brew a cup of coffee and cool it in the refrigerator. Applying it to the affected area soothes the rash and reduces redness and swelling.
- Aloe vera: This product is usually used to cool sunburns but can also be applied to a poison ivy rash to get rid of the itch.
- Tea tree oil: Apply to the rash to reduce redness and swelling several times a day.
- Tea bath: Place 6-8 bags of black tea in a lukewarm bath. Black tea contains an anti-inflammatory acid that reduces swelling. Take a 20 minute bath for some rash relief.
- Chilled fruit rind: Using a watermelon or banana rind helps to cool the rash and dry out the blisters or soothe the area.
The best way to treat poison ivy is to avoid the plant in the first place. Make sure to wear protection and recognize the poisonous plants. Immediately after contact, rinse the affected area with cold water and wash anything that may have come in contact with the plant. Apply alcohol to further close the pores and rinse with soap. Once the rash appears, do not scratch! Apply anti-itch creams and try several home remedies to reduce the swelling, redness and itch. It is also important to ensure that anything you touch, you clean afterwards. This includes furniture, clothing and sheets. The oil can be easily spread so it must be contained. Essentially, the rash simply has to be waited out. Let the blisters dry and within 1-2 weeks the rash should begin to disappear. If it worsens and spreads to dangerous areas of the body, seek medical help immediately.
Piper Hernandez on March 28, 2017:
I have poison ivy right now. It's on my arms leg and my face and still spreading.
FlourishAnyway from USA on June 09, 2014:
I just got over this last week after sitting around a campfire where (unknowingly) it made its way into the fire. It seems like all I have to do is look at the stuff and I'm toast. It sure is hard not to scratch. Because it was on my eyelids, I had to get steroids to make it stop. Awful stuff.