How to Treat Poison Ivy and Poison Oak
Poison ivy, oak, and sumac are a great way to ruin a day in the outdoors. Coming in contact with their toxic leaves, stems, and roots can give you an itchy rash that lasts for 1-3 weeks. Although the only way to completely remove the rash is time, there are several means of reducing the pain and itching involved with exposure to poison ivy.
Taking Immediate Care of Your Skin
Look for a red rash with blisters.A poison ivy rash is an allergic reaction to the oils secreted by the plant. You will have a red rash, swelling and blisters in the area where you contacted the plant.
- If you inhaled the burning plant, you may also have breathing issues. This is a serious condition. You should take an antihistamine and get emergency medical help.
- If you suspect you encountered poison ivy, collect a sample in a plastic bag to show your doctor. Be sure to wear gloves when collecting your sample. Do not touch the plant.
Remove and wash your clothes.Take off your clothes and place them in a plastic garbage bag, if possible. Wash your clothes separately from anything else as soon as possible.
Apply rubbing alcohol.You can apply rubbing alcohol to your skin to dissolve the poison ivy or poison oak oils. Because the toxic oil from the plant seeps into your skin gradually, adding rubbing alcohol to the area will prevent the further spread. It won't provide immediate relief, but it will stem the spread. You can also use an over-the-counter cleanser like Tecnu or Zanfel.
- Only apply the rubbing alcohol in a well-ventilated room, preferably with an open window or vent. The fumes from the rubbing alcohol can make you feel lightheaded.
Rinse the area with cool water.Never use warm or hot water, as this will open your pores and allow more of the toxins to sink in. If you're able, keep the affected area under cold running water for 10-15 minutes. If you're outdoors in the woods when you're exposed to poison ivy or poison oak, then you can rinse your body off in a running stream.
Completely clean the area.Regardless of the location on your body, make sure that it was thoroughly rinsed with water. If you touched the area on your body at all or the poison affected your hands, scrub under your fingernails with a toothbrush in case any oil from the plants was deposited beneath them. Throw the toothbrush away after you're done.
- Use a dish soap that is used for oil removal to rinse the area of your rash. Because the toxins have been transferred to your skin in the form of an oil, using an oil-obliterating dish soap may help to reduce the spread of the rash. You can use any brand that's labeled for oil-fighting or breaking up oil.
- If you use a towel to dry yourself after washing the affected area, be sure to wash the towel with the rest of your exposed clothes immediately after use. In some cases, you may have to throw out the towel.
Don't scratch the rash.Even though the rash is not contagious, you could break the skin and allow bacteria to enter the wound. Don't touch or pop any blisters that may form, even if they are weeping. If necessary, cut your nails short and cover the area to keep yourself from scratching it.
Cool off the exposed area.Apply cold compresses or apply an ice pack for 10 to 15 minutes. Make sure that you don't apply ice directly to your skin; always wrap your ice pack or compress in a towel before application. Also, allow the area to air dry instead of rubbing it with a towel if you get your rash wet.
- If you need the area to dry faster, it's okay to pat it dry. However, never rub it.
Treating the Itch Caused by the Poison
Apply topical creams or lotions.Calamine lotion, capsaicin cream or hydrocortisone cream can provide some relief from itching. Don't do this immediately after contact with the plant (as rubbing the lotion could spread the oils), but after a few hours or days when the itching feeling begins. Capsaicin cream, usually sold in drugstores labeled for arthritis pain relief, burns a bit at first but suppresses itching for hours.
- If you're in a hot, outdoor environment, hydrocortisone cream may not work. Try capsaicin cream instead.
Take antihistamines.Antihistamines are medications that treat for allergies, and since poison oak and ivy cause allergic reactions on contact, taking these drugs may offer minor relief. Antihistamines generally offer only mild relief from the symptoms of poison ivy, but if you take oral medications before bedtime, their combination of anti-itch and drowsiness-inducing effects can help you get some rest. Only take these orally, and do not apply the creams to your poison ivy as this can worsen your rash.
Take an oatmeal bath.Use an oatmeal bath product or an aluminum acetate soak. If you need a quick fix without running to the store, blend a cup of oatmeal in a food processor or blender and add it to your warm bathwater. Avoid using water that is very hot, especially right after being exposed to the poison as this will open your pores.
Try an acorn broth.Crack acorns and boil them in water. Strain out the nuts, cool the liquid and apply it to your rash with a cotton pad. Although this method hasn't been studied, it has shown to reduce the itchy feelings of poison ivy rash.
Apply aloe vera.Aloe vera is a cactus-like plant that excretes a cooling gel from its leaves. You can use a real aloe vera plant by snapping off leaves and applying the gel directly to your rash, or use a processed bottled form. If you buy a bottle from the store, make sure that it is at least 95% real aloe vera.
Rinse with apple cider vinegar.Among the many medical treatments apple cider vinegar can be used for, expediting the healing process of poison ivy exposure is one of them. Use a cotton pad to gently apply the vinegar to the area, or rinse it with a mixture of equal parts vinegar and water.
Use baking soda.Make a paste consisting of 3 parts baking soda to 1 part water. Apply the paste to your rash to pull the fluid out of the blisters. Leave the baking soda paste to dry, and allow it to crack or flake off. Reapply this paste every few hours for the best results.
- Keep in mind that baking soda can irritate your skin, especially if you're sensitive to it. It's best to only try this if you know you aren't sensitive to baking soda.
Try using dairy.Use buttermilk or yogurt to apply to your skin, unless you have a dairy allergy. When you apply buttermilk or yogurt to your rash, the proteins will draw out fluid from your blisters.
- When using yogurt, opt for a plain variety with the fewest additives possible.
Treat your rash with tea.Fill a bathtub with water and add 12 tea bags, such as chamomile tea for its anti-inflammatory properties. Soak in your tea bath for 20 minutes to help reduce the itchiness and uncomfortable feeling. You can also brew very strong tea and dab it onto your rash with a cotton ball every few hours.
Use chilled fruit rinds.Press a cold watermelon rind or banana peel against your rash. The watermelon rind acts as a cold compress, and the juice helps to dry out blisters. On the other hand, using a banana peel helps to cool and soothe the area.
Dab on cold coffee.If you have a bit of leftover dark-brewed coffee, use a cotton pad to dab it onto your rash. You can also brew a fresh cup, but allow the coffee to cool in the fridge before applying it. Coffee contains chlorogenic acid, which is a natural anti-inflammatory.
Preventing Future Exposure
Learn to identify poison plants.Avoid plants that have the following characteristics:
Poison ivyhas 3 shiny green leaves and a red stem. It grows as a vine, typically along riverbanks or lake shores. It can also be found in woods or forests. As a common rule of thumb remember this simple rhyme: "Leaves of three, leave it be."
Poison oakgrows as a shrub and has 3 leaves like poison ivy. Poison oak is typically found on the West Coast of the U.S.
Poison sumacis a woody shrub with 7 to 13 leaves arranged in pairs. It grows abundantly along the Mississippi River.
- Poison ivyhas 3 shiny green leaves and a red stem. It grows as a vine, typically along riverbanks or lake shores. It can also be found in woods or forests. As a common rule of thumb remember this simple rhyme: "Leaves of three, leave it be."
Bathe your pets if they have been exposed to the plants.Pets aren't sensitive to poison ivy or poison oak, but if the oils are trapped on their fur, then they could cause an allergic reaction in anyone who pets them. Use pet shampoo and wear rubber gloves while you're giving them a bath.
Bring preventative measures.If you are taking a hike or are camping in an area that grows poison ivy, bring extra bottles of cold water and rubbing alcohol. If you apply both of these immediately after coming in contact, you will greatly decrease the spread and pain associated with exposure.
Dress appropriately when going outdoors.It's especially important if you're going into an area where you think you may find poison ivy or poison oak. Wear long sleeved-shirts, long pants and socks. Make sure that you wear closed-toe shoes, and always bring a spare change of clothes just in case of an accident.
QuestionDoes poison oak get hard before it heals?
DermatologistDermatologistExpert AnswerThe inflammation from the rash can cause swelling, which can make the skin feel "hard". Also, scratching will cause the skin to thicken and feel "hard". This will resolve once the rash heals. The less you scratch, the faster your skin will heal.Thanks!
QuestionHow long does it take for the rash to show?
DermatologistDermatologistExpert AnswerOn average it takes 2 to 4 days for the rash to appear, but it can be longer or shorter depending on your prior exposure.Thanks!
QuestionDo you cover the poison ivy spots with bandaids?
Registered NurseRegistered NurseExpert AnswerIt's best not to use bandaids on poison ivy. Instead, allow the air to circulate around it. Your sores need air to heal.Thanks!
QuestionWhat if it gets on your private part?
Registered NurseRegistered NurseExpert AnswerIt's unfortunate when poison ivy gets in a sensitive place! Don't scratch the area. If it appears inflamed or is causing you a lot of discomfort, visit your doctor for treatment.Thanks!
QuestionWhat if I have poison ivy on my face near my eyes?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerIf it causes your face to swell and your eye to shut, seek immediate medical attention. Many of topical remedies should not be used close to your eyes.Thanks!
QuestionWill taking a salt bath help me?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYou could try, but it would do nothing for the inflammation. It also won't be very soothing. Try a topical cream such as, Caladril or Aloe Vera gel.Thanks!
QuestionHow would I kill the plant?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerRemove the plant using pruning shears. Be sure to wear gloves and long sleeves. Never burn the plant, as the smoke coming up from the plant can be fatal.Thanks!
QuestionWhy do I get a rash when I don't even touch the plant?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYou might have touched something or someone that came in contact with the plant. Some people are not allergic to poison ivy, but they can still "spread" it.Thanks!
QuestionHow long does it take for the rash to show up after being exposed?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerOn average, the rash appears 2-4 days after coming in contact with the plant, but it could come sooner or later depending on your prior exposure.Thanks!
QuestionDo poison oak rashes get hard before they heal?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerThis can happen due to inflammation and swelling or if you are scratching the rash a lot. The less you scratch, the faster it will heal. If you're really worried, there's no harm in consulting your physician.Thanks!
What if my eyes are itching?
- If a child gets into poison ivy, oak, or sumac, cut his or her fingernails very short to minimize skin damage from scratching. They can also wear gloves or socks over their hands.
- Don't skip the step of washing your clothes and tools or bathing your pet. Poison ivy and poison oak resins can stay on objects for up to 5 years, which could cause you to have another allergic reaction when your skin comes into contact with them.
- Put spray-on deodorant on your arms and legs before going outside. It stops up your pores and the oil of the poison ivy does not get in your skin. Look for one labeled as an antiperspirant.
- Poison ivy and oak are related to the mango tree. People who have a history of poison ivy or poison oak dermatitis will often develop the same rash on their hands, extremities or corners of their mouth if they are exposed to mango skin or sticky mango sap while picking fruit from a tree or eating it. If you have a history of poison ivy/oak rashes, let someone else pick the mangoes and prepare them so that you can enjoy the flavor without an itchy, weeping red rash.
- Eliminate poison ivy or poison oak in your yard by digging up small plants or cutting larger plants back to ground level. You can also spray them with herbicides containing glyphosate or triclopyr (not recommended due to dangers of herbicide vapors around pets and children). Make sure that you wear long-sleeved shirts and gloves when you work with poison plants.
- You can get Oral Ivy at your local drugstore. You put it in water and drink it. It has no taste and works fast. If you use it before exposure it stops the rash. If you have the rash already, it stops the itch and speeds the healing.
- You can use Caladryl clear for poison ivy.
- If you are gardening, always remember to wear gardening gloves to prevent any contact with poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac.
- Do not soak in tub right after exposure. The oils float on top of the H2O and spread rash. Instead, remove the oils before soaking in a bath.
- If you have a rash in your eyes, mouth, nose or genital area, or if the rash covers more than 1/4 of your body, then you should consult your doctor. Also, see your doctor if the rash doesn't improve in a few days, if it gets worse or if it keeps you awake at night. Your physician may prescribe corticosteroids to help relieve the itching.
- Never burn poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac to get rid of it. The oil is vaporized and the resins can float downwind in the smoke and can cause severe allergic reactions for anyone who may inhale it. This can cause the rash on lung tissue resulting in respiratory failure in extreme cases. Either way, it's very dangerous.
- Never go camping without antihistamines, as they can be life saving if you encounter an allergen, such as poison ivy.
- Call 9-1-1 if you are having difficulty breathing or severe swelling. While you wait for help, take 1-2 antihistamines. If you have been exposed to smoke from burning poison plants, then you should seek emergency care.
- If you have a fever over 100 F (38 C), if you see yellow scabs or pus, or if you develop tenderness on the rash, then you should see your doctor immediately about the possibility that you may have an infection.
Sources and Citations
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of How to Treat Poison Ivy and Poison Oak was reviewed by on August 31, 2019.
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