5 greatest dwelling treatments for poison ivy, in response to dermatologists

The poison ivy plant contains an oil called urushiol, which causes allergic reactions when it comes into contact with the skin.

A poison ivy rash is characterized by a red, itchy, blistered rash on the exposed skin. The blisters can break and leak fluid, and they can also crust and appear black or dark red.

You should learn how to recognize poison ivy – the three-leaved, ground-dwelling vine – and try to avoid contact with it as much as possible. According to the American Skin Association, around 10 to 15% of people are extremely allergic to poison ivy and should see a doctor if they touch the plant.

However, there are many home remedies that can help relieve the itchiness of a poison ivy rash and make it heal faster, and most people don’t need medical attention. Consider the following five home remedies if you have a poison ivy rash:

1. Wash the rash

You may not always find out that you’ve come into contact with poison ivy. However, if you suspect you have touched poison ivy, “the affected area should be washed immediately,” says Dr. Noelani Gonzalez, Clinical Instructor at Mount Sinai Hospital.

Gonzalez recommends using cold or lukewarm water when washing the area, as hot water can irritate and worsen the rash. You should also use hand or dish soap to effectively remove the vegetable oil, says Dr. Sonya Kenkare, Assistant Professor of Dermatology at Rush University Medical Center.

The combination of soap and water breaks down and washes away urushiol, which is necessary to reduce the risk of an allergic reaction. Kenkare recommends washing the area for about 30 seconds to 1 minute – just long enough to remove the oils without further irritating the skin.

Alternatively, you can also use alcohol while washing to remove urushiol from the skin or other affected areas. Overall, it’s important to wash anything that might have come in contact with the vegetable oil, including:

  • The affected area of ​​your skin
  • Your hands (and under your nails)
  • dress
  • Equipment or gear
  • Pets

2. Soak in a bath

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, a quick, lukewarm bath can help treat poison ivy rash itching. Just make sure you’ve rinsed thoroughly before getting in the bath.

“You shouldn’t soak or take a bath if you’ve just come into contact with the plant, as some of the plant’s residual oil may not wash off and spread to other parts of the body or from person to person,” says Gonzalez.

When you have a poison ivy rash, the body produces histamines as part of the allergic reaction that causes itching and redness. Bathing in lukewarm water can soothe your skin. But be careful, as bathing in too hot water can cause further discomfort.

“I find that when people use very hot water they tend to itch more,” says Kenkare. “This applies to both showering and washing.”

Additionally, an oatmeal bath can help dry out leaky blisters and soothe redness and irritation. A 2007 Journal of Drugs in Dermatology article on colloidal oatmeal – or finely ground, cooked oatmeal – found it to have anti-inflammatory properties and can soothe inflamed skin.

Soaking in an oatmeal bath for 15 to 30 minutes every eight hours can help relieve itchy, red skin. Other home remedies, like adding a cup of baking soda to a bath, can also help relieve itching.

Even taking a normal shower of cold or lukewarm water every eight hours can relieve the itchiness – only hot water can make it worse. For more information, see the benefits of cold showers over hot showers.

3. Apply a standard anti-itch cream

You may have a few helpful creams in your medicine cabinet. For example, over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream and calamine lotion can help relieve itching, Gonzalez says.

Hydrocortisone creams contain topical steroids to reduce swelling, redness, and irritation. The calamin lotion contains zinc oxide and astringents. A 2019 study published in the Journal of Spectroscopy found that these compounds can also relieve itching.

Both creams can be applied to the skin to relieve the discomfort of a poison ivy rash. However, calamine lotion should only be used for the first week as it can dry out the skin and may cause further itching with prolonged use.

If you don’t have hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion on hand, you can use other alternatives that you may already have at home:

  • Baking powder paste. Mix three teaspoons of baking soda with one teaspoon of water and apply the paste to the poison ivy rash. It should peel off, of course.
  • Cold compress. “Cool compresses on itchy skin are great home remedies,” says Gonzalez. This can be as simple as wrapping a towel around a handful of ice cubes and holding it there for 15 to 20 minutes. Do not put ice cubes directly on the skin as this can irritate the swollen, tender rash.
  • Aloe vera. Aloe vera gels or creams can reduce the hot, puffy skin of a poison ivy rash (like sunburn). It won’t be as effective as directly at reducing the itchiness of a poison ivy rash, however, Kenkare says.

4. Try oral antihistamines

You may also have some common medications that can help with poison ivy. Oral antihistamines block the body’s production of histamines, which will stop the symptoms of your allergic reaction to poison ivy, such as swelling, redness, and itching.

Taking oral antihistamines can help relieve itching, Gonzalez says. Non-drowsy oral antihistamines like Zyrtec and Allegra can be used throughout the day to relieve itching, redness, and swelling. Benadryl, which causes drowsiness, is more helpful in managing these symptoms at night and giving you a better night’s sleep.

You should avoid antihistamine creams, however, as these can make the rash worse, according to National Capital Poison Control. You should also avoid creams that contain anesthetics like benzocaine or antibiotics like neomycin or bacitracin, as these can further irritate the skin.

5. Use apple cider vinegar

According to Gonzalez, the anti-inflammatory properties of apple cider vinegar can soothe the rash and reduce pain and redness.

However, Kenkare cautions against applying apple cider vinegar to freshly inflamed skin. The acidity of the vinegar can be painful if the skin is still raw and tender or has open blisters. You should put a few drops of diluted apple cider vinegar on the non-blistered skin first to see if it causes irritation. If the vinegar doesn’t ignite the area, it can help relieve the poison ivy rash.

Overall, vinegar has been used to treat common diseases for centuries, including poison ivy rashes. However, there is no scientific evidence that apple cider vinegar is particularly effective at treating poison ivy.

If you plan to use apple cider vinegar to treat a poison ivy rash, dab a cotton ball dipped in the vinegar on the affected area. If you have sensitive skin or a particularly severe rash, you can dilute the apple cider vinegar with water.

When to see a doctor

A poison ivy rash usually clears up on its own in just four hours or three weeks.

However, you should see a doctor if you experience symptoms of a severe allergic reaction to poison ivy, which may include:

  • fever
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Severe swelling in the affected area
  • A rash that covers more than a quarter of your body
  • The rash appears on your face, eyes, lips, or genitals
  • The rash appears to be infected – the blisters form pus, ooze through yellow fluid, or have a strange odor

Your doctor can then prescribe the best treatment for you to prevent the body’s extreme allergic reaction or to control infections of the skin or body.

If you are extremely allergic to poison ivy, you should also watch out for mangoes. That’s because mango skin contains urushiol, just like poison ivy. You should be able to eat the fruit, but touching the skin can also cause an allergic reaction.

The final result

Poison ivy is a common rash that can be treated with home remedies and an understanding of how to prevent it.

“I think one of the most important parts of poison ivy is prevention,” says Kenkare. For example, wearing long pants and sleeves while gardening or walking through a forest can reduce the risk of urushiol oil coming into contact with your skin. You should also be able to spot and avoid the poison ivy plant in the first place.

If you accidentally touch the plant, try immediately rinsing the area with water and washing the affected area with soap and water for about a minute so the oil doesn’t cause an allergic reaction on your skin. And if you’re still developing the itchy rash, use the home remedies above to relieve your symptoms until it heals.

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