How to Treat Poison Ivy: Tips from Dermatologists
The landscape is in full swing, and so too are the leaves from poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac. When the oil from these plants touches the skin, most people develop an itchy, blistering rash. Although the rash itself is not contagious, the oil can spread to other areas of the body and from person to person if not quickly washed off after touching the plants. If you are experiencing a serious reaction (difficulty breathing or swallowing, substantial swelling, or many rashes or blisters), go to urgent care or the emergency room. If you have a rash on a small section of your skin, use the following tips:
- Immediately rinse your skin with lukewarm, soapy water. If you can rinse your skin immediately after touching poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac, you may be able to rinse off some of the oil. This helps ensure that the oil does not spread to other areas of the body and cause additional rashes.
- Wash your clothing. Thoroughly wash all the clothes you were wearing when you came into contact with the poisonous plant. The oil can stick to clothing, and if it touches your skin, it can cause another rash.
- Wash everything that may have the oil on its surface. Besides clothing, the oil can stick to many surfaces, including gardening tools, golf clubs, leashes and even a pet’s fur. Be sure to rinse your pet’s fur, and wash tools and other objects with warm, soapy water.
- Do not scratch, as scratching can cause an infection.
- Leave blisters alone. If blisters open, do not remove the overlying skin, as the skin can protect the raw wound underneath and prevent infection.
- Take short, lukewarm baths in a colloidal oatmeal preparation, which you can buy at your local drugstore. You can also draw a bath and add one cup of baking soda to the running water. Taking short, cool showers may also help.
- Consider calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream. Apply calamine lotion to skin that itches. If you have a mild case, a hydrocortisone cream may also help.
- Apply cool compresses. You can make a cool compress by wetting a clean washcloth with cold water and wringing it out so that it does not drip. Then apply to the itchy skin.
- Consider taking antihistamine medication. They can help reduce itching, however use with caution. You should not apply a topical antihistamine to your skin; that can worsen the rash and the itch.Courtesy of the American Academy of Dermatology.
A rash from poison ivy, oak or sumac usually lasts one to three weeks. If your rash is not improving after seven to 10 days, or you think your rash may be infected, see a dermatologist for treatment.