If you’ve never suffered the uncomfortable itch of poison ivy, consider yourself lucky! If you found yourself in contact on your recent camping trip or simply in your own back yard, check out these remedies to relieve the itch and treat poison ivy quickly and easily!
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Incredibly common throughout much of Canada and the United States, as well as parts of Mexico and Asia, the poison ivy plant is one that many of us heard about growing up. The rash most often associated with the plant is actually caused by an oil that is found throughout the plant, called urushiol. This oil is transferred to the skin where it is absorbed, triggering a reaction in approximately 85% of people. That’s right, there is a small number of people who are lucky enough to not develop any symptoms, even if they come in direct contact! In this article, we’re going to dive into everything you need to know to prevent and treat poison ivy quickly and effectively!
Table of Contents
What Is Poison Ivy?
If you are an outdoor adventurer or avid campers, it is important to learn to recognize the plant. Here in Canada as well as in the Northern and Western United States, the plant grows as a shrub while in the East, Midwest and South it is a vine, but both forms of the plant share a similar characteristic, the group of 3 leaves.
One common myth is that the plant will go dormant throughout the winter season, buried under the snow, but don’t be fooled! Since the oils exist throughout the entire plant, you may come in contact with the oils at any time of year. The leaves will transition in colour from reddish with yellow-green flowers in the spring to green in the summer. In the fall the leaves will change again, turning into a mix of red, orange and yellow with off-white berries, falling off as winter comes.
Familiarize yourself with the various stages of this plant to ensure that you are able to recognize it out in the wild throughout the year!
Unfortunately, identifying the plant is only the first step and it often comes too late. If you’re standing there staring at a poison ivy plant knowing that you’ve just been in direct contact, don’t despair. I can’t turn back time, but I can help you to address the problem directly and treat poison ivy either with over-the-counter medication or natural alternatives!
Treat Poison Ivy With These Options:
While poison ivy will eventually clear up and heal on its own, it often takes weeks during which time you are left with an unbearable itch. Rather than just allowing it to run its course, here are some treatment options that will help to speed up the process and/or relieve the constant itch.
#1 – Over the Counter Blocking Creams and Antihistamine Medications
Many drug stores and pharmacies carrier over-the-counter creams designed to both provide much-needed itch relief and prevent the oils from poison ivy from penetrating the skin causing further rashes. In fact, if you can get your hands on the creams within an hour of being exposed you may be able to avoid a rash altogether! If you are unsure about what you are looking for, ask the pharmacist – it’s a common enough problem that you’re likely not the first person to ask.
There are also many over-the-counter antihistamines that may help you to find some comfort. One of the most common options is Benadryl, however, it is known for causing drowsiness. That being said, if you’re looking for a little help in getting a good night’s sleep, that may be exactly what you need.
#2 – Cortisone Creams and Calamine Lotion
Both available at any drug store or big box store in the pharmacy section, cortisone cream and calamine lotion will provide you with itch relief quickly. Before applying, make sure that you take the time to wash and dry the area. As with any commercial product, be sure to read the directions on the product label regarding how often you should be reapplying.
#3 – Rubbing Alcohol
Another widely available treatment option, applying rubbing alcohol directly to the rash will help to dry it up, promoting a faster healing time. If you apply it quickly enough after exposure it may actually prevent a rash by removing the oils from your skin before triggering a reaction.
#4 – Cool-Water Baths and Cold Compresses
While this isn’t going to help with to actually treat poison ivy, soaking in a cool-water bath or sitting with a cool, wet compress placed on the rash for approximately 20-30 minutes can provide some serious itch relief quickly and at a low cost. This can also be done in conjunction with any of the other treatment options listed to make the time between treatments more bearable.
#5 – Aloe Vera Gel
A widely known and natural option for treatment, aloe vera gel is often associated with sunburn relief but don’t be fooled, it can also provide some incredible itch relief! While there are many store-bought aloe vera gels currently on the market, the most effective option would be to apply the gel directly from the leaf. If you know that you are in an area where you are going to experience regular exposure, you may want to consider growing your own aloe vera plants for this purpose!
#6 – Oatmeal
Another well-known natural treatment alternative, oatmeal is highly recognized for its ability to soothe itching. The key to making an effective oatmeal bath is the creation of an oatmeal pouch. Using a blender or food processor, blend 1 cup of oatmeal until you have a fine powder. Pour this powder into a cheesecloth and then tie into a pouch or place it into the foot of an old nylon stocking. Hang the ouch from the faucet of your bathtub while running a warm bath, ensuring that it is suspended directly under the running water. Allow yourself to soak in the bath for 30 minutes to experience relief.
#7 – Baking Soda and Water Paste
Mix up a paste with 3 teaspoons of baking soda and 1 teaspoon of water and apply directly to the rash. You will not have to wipe or wash this off as it will flake off slowly as it dries. If your rash is more severe or blistering and requires a more intensive approach, mix 2 teaspoons into a 1 litre of water. Soak a sterile gauze pad in the mixture and then apply it to the rash for 10 minutes, 4-5 times each day. This is not an option that should be used around the face as it is important to avoid the eyes.
Related: ’15 Tips For Camping In The Rain’
#8 – Cucumber
While cucumber isn’t going to be the miracle treatment to make your rash go away, this vegetable can provide soothing relief from the constant itching sensation. There are two ways that you can use cucumber effectively. You can cut the veggie up into slices and place the slices directly onto the rash or, for more thorough coverage, mash the cucumber creating a paste that can then be applied.
#9 – Apple Cider Vinegar
Recently apple cider vinegar appears to be taking the internet by storm, the miracle cure for a long list of different ailments and conditions. Among those, apple cider vinegar is a great natural treatment option for poison ivy. Why? Much like the alcohol, the acid will help dry up the area speeding up the healing time. At the same time, it works to relieve the itching, making it a great overall natural treatment approach. Exercise caution, however, in applying too much apple cider vinegar undiluted as the acid content could irritate the area. Instead, dilute with water prior to application.
Please Note: If you are experiencing a widespread rash, significant blistering or a rash on any areas of concern such as the face or genitals, contact your doctor or another medical professional immediately. A reaction of this level may require a higher level of treatment including prescription medications in order to avoid any unnecessary complications such as a bacterial infection. While poison ivy is usually a low-risk condition, it can result in serious complications and should be addressed accordingly. If you experience any difficulty breathing, trouble swallowing or excessive swelling of the face, head to your nearest urgent care center or emergency room.
Take Preventative Steps
Rather than waiting until an uncomfortable rash forms and working to treat poison ivy rashes, why not take steps to prevent having to experience them at all? The obvious answer is to avoid contact with the poison ivy plant, but it’s not always that easy. If you discover poison ivy nearby or know that you are going to be engaging in an activity that may cause you to come in contact, do yourself a favour and take the necessary preventative steps!
#1 – Dress to Cover Any Higher Risk Areas
If you know that you are likely going to be exposed to poison ivy, make sure that you are dressing appropriately. Long pants tucked into socks and closed-toed shoes will minimize the risk when hiking through poison ivy covered trails. Meanwhile, if you know you are going to be doing yard work, long sleeves and heavy-duty rubber gloves will allow you to handle poison ivy safely. Remember – the rash is a result of the oils coming into contact with your skin, so prevent that contact from happening.
#2 – Wash Up After Any Potential Exposure
There are going to be times that you don’t notice the presence of poison ivy until it’s too late, but that doesn’t mean that you’re doomed to suffer! As soon as you recognize that you have had contact, get to the nearest sink or shower. Rinse your skin with lukewarm water and then scrub the exposed area with warm soapy water. This will hopefully remove the oil before it has time to cause a reaction.
Don’t forget to wash any other items that have been in contact with the oils of the plant such as clothing or shoes, as they may be carrying the oils as well. Overlooking this step may very well result in the development of a rash down the road when you pick these items up, exposing yourself all over again.
#3 – Lemon Juice
A natural option, lemon juice works as a natural astringent meaning that it is highly effective in cleansing your skin. Therefore, if applied as soon as you have come in contact with the plant it may remove the oils from the plant before it has the opportunity to cause a reaction.
Dogs and Poison Ivy
While 85% of people will react to urushiol, the oil in the poison ivy plants, the same can’t be said for dogs. In fact, it is very rare for a dog to have a reaction, but they are often carriers of the oil, transmitting it to us. It is for this reason that you should take precautions anytime that you are out exploring with your pup by your side. If you know that you have been in a high-risk area where your dog was likely in contact with the plants, take the time to wash your dog carefully, cleaning the oil from its fur. Don’t forget to wash any collars or leashes you may have been using at the time.
While rare, there are occurrences in which a dog does react. Those with extremely short coats or skin sensitivities are more susceptible. If you are concerned that your dog may be presenting with a poison ivy rash due to excessive itching or biting at their skin or loss of hair, call your veterinarian. An untreated reaction may lead to an infection if left untreated.
What tricks and techniques have you heard of to treat poison ivy and relieve yourself of that unbearable itching? Did I miss any? If so, feel free to share them in the comments!