When you have been in contact with poison ivy, oak, sumac or any plant containing the toxic, urushiol oil, you are sure to suffer the consequences. Typically, these consist of itchy skin and red rash followed by poison ivy blisters.
In this article, we will share advice to help you avoid contact with plants containing urushiol oil. We shared tips on getting rid of poison ivy, sumac and oak plants in this article. We will also provide simple tips to help you cope and recover from poison ivy, oak or sumac skin rash as quickly as possible. Read on to learn more.
Know How To Identify Poisonous Plants
Before you venture into the woods (or clear overgrown brush in your backyard), take a few moments to learn how to recognize potentially hazardous plants before you come in contact with them. Ticks are another item to be aware of.
Here is a brief description of the three types of rash-producing plants you are most likely to encounter:
Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans)
You’ll find the poison ivy plant throughout the contiguous United States.
This small plant grows as a shrub or a vine. The leaves are glossy and may have either serrated or smooth edges. They typically grow in clusters of three.
In the springtime, the leaves are light red. They become green in the summertime, accompanied by small, green flowers. In autumn, the leaves transition from yellow to orange to red. The flowers become yellowish/white berries.
Poison oak is prevalent as a shrub in the southeastern US. It grows as a vine along the west coast. Its leaves are arranged in groups of three but are fuzzy in texture. The leaves may be lobed (like an oak leaf) or deeply serrated. Poison oak also produces yellowish/white berries from time-to-time.
Poison sumac does not grow as a vine but grows as a tall bush, and sometimes thought of as a tree. These plants can be found in boggy or swampy areas in the southeast, the northeast and the midwest.
The smooth-edged leaves grow in pairs, in descending order of size on long, red stems. A single leaf grows at the tip of the stem.
The leaves are typically in odd numbers ranging from seven to thirteen, and the fronds have a feather-like appearance. Poison sumac has green leaves in the spring and summer and puts on a glorious show of color in the fall.
The bush produces yellowish/green flowers in the summertime, and they become whitish/green fruits in autumn. The fruits hang down in clusters rather like grapes. [source]
4 Tips to Outsmarting Poisonous Plants
Protect Yourself Against Poison Plants!
Even when you can recognize these plants, you may miss them mixed in with the general arboreal population. That’s why it’s essential to dress appropriately when gardening or exploring the woods.
Wear a long-sleeved shirt and pants, solid shoes or boots and socks for gardening and hiking. If you plan to work with these plants, you must also wear gloves, eye protection and possibly a breathing mask.
After possible exposure, be sure to wash any tools or equipment that may have come in contact with poison oak, ivy or sumac. Wash your clothes and yourself right away to remove any urushiol you may have encountered.
If your pet goes on your adventure, be sure to bath them, too. Urushiol will not cause dogs, cats and other critters to break out, but if it is on their fur it will affect you.
Time is of the essence. You want to prevent urushiol from soaking into your skin and having to treat poison ivy rash. Be sure to use cool water, as hot water will cause it to soak in even more! When urushiol absorbs into your skin, it is carried to your lymph nodes. This is what initiates the allergic reaction.
This is why it is always wise to take a cool shower using Tecnu or dish soap as a body wash when you come in from a long day in the yard or woods. Don’t take a bath as this may have the effect of dispersing the urushiol over the entire surface of your skin!
What Are Poison Ivy Symptoms and What Can You Do?
The first thing you will notice if you encounter poison ivy, oak or sumac is intense itching. You must be careful not to scratch which may cause the rash to spread. Also, if you break the skin, bacteria from your fingertips and nails can cause the area to become infected.
As your allergic reaction progresses, contact dermatitis will develop which may turn into angry-looking, itchy blisters. Fortunately, there are many things you can do at home to mitigate the symptoms of poison ivy rash.
If you have washed the area thoroughly with a specialty product such as Tecnu or with simple dishwashing detergent, you should have removed most (if not all) of the toxin. If you feel itching anyway, wash the area again with cool water and Tecnu or dish soap and cool water.
Keep the area clean, and apply anti-itch preparations as needed. Quick, consistent attention can help prevent worsening of the rash. You may even be able to hold off blistering. Your rash should heal within a couple of weeks. [source]
16 Home Remedies To Help Relieve Poison Ivy Itching
Here are 16 great home remedies to help you relieve the itching of poison ivy and hurry healing on its way.
#1 – Make a cool compress. Soak a washcloth is cool water and lay it over the affected area. The cooling effect will temporarily counteract the itching.
#2 – Make an apple cider vinegar (ACV) compress. To soothe your rash and reduce the itching and inflammation mix ACV 50-50 with cool water to make your compress. You can make this mixture up in advance and keep it in your fridge for even greater relief from itching and burning.
#3 – Another good recipe for a soothing compress involves the use of a cup of pure, filtered water and a teaspoonful of Himalayan salt. This all-natural rock salt contains sulfur, iron oxide and a number of other minerals.
It is known to have effective antihistamine properties, and it is very helpful in dealing with poison ivy rash. Use Himalayan salt water to make a cool compress or decant it into a spray bottle to spritz onto your rash as needed.
#4 – Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) is a wild plant that can often be found growing alongside poison ivy. It is a very useful, medicinal plant and you can use it the moment you come in contact with poison ivy.
To do so, you would simply cut off a length of the plant’s hollow stem, slit it and press the wet interior of the stem against the affected area of skin. You can also make a tincture using apple cider vinegar, vodka or rubbing alcohol and the leaves of the plant. Here’s a good video that describes Jewelweed and its many uses.
How To Beat Poison Ivy FAST!
#5 – Fresh aloe vera gel is also very helpful for dealing with rashes and all manner of skin irritations. If you happen to have an aloe vera plant on hand, just cut off a spear, split the tough, outer skin and scrape the pulpy gel out with a spoon.
Mash it up with a fork to make it spreadable and then apply it to your irritated skin. You can keep the unused portion in a tightly sealed jar in the fridge for a few days. You can also simply split the spear and lay the juicy side against your rash if you wish.
#6 – Acidic, astringent lemon or lime juice is good for treating poison ivy rash and relieving the itch. Mix it with honey to help fight bacteria, promote healing and prevent scarring.
You can make a soothing treatment with the juice of one lemon or lime and a couple of teaspoons of honey. Mix these ingredients together well and keep them in a tightly sealed container in the fridge.
Use a cotton ball to dab the cool mixture onto your rash as needed to quell itching and burning.
#7 – Distilled witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) extract is very cooling and soothing for rashes and irritated skin. Use a cotton ball to apply it directly to the rash to reduce inflammation and itching and help blisters heal quickly.
#8 – Rubbing alcohol dabbed over the affected area will also help stop the itching, but it will sting. Witch hazel is safe and comfortable for use on children. Rubbing alcohol may not be.
#9 – Use rubbing alcohol and medicated body powder. After cleaning the rash with soap and cool water and allowing the skin to dry, apply rubbing alcohol generously with a cotton ball and immediately sprinkle medicated body powder (e.g. Gold Bond) generously over the area.
This will create a paste of medicated powder and rubbing alcohol. Cover the area loosely with dry gauze to keep the treatment in place.
#10 – Use goldenseal for healing inside and out. Goldenseal is a natural herb that possesses antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. It can be used as a tea and to make natural medicines and personal care products.
You can purchase goldenseal root powder at your local health food store and use it to make a tincture that you can apply directly to your rash with a cotton ball.
Add a teaspoonful of goldenseal root powder to a pint of freshly boiled, filtered water. Allow the mixture to sit (covered) until it cools. Pour it through a clean coffee filter to strain out the gritty powder.
Store it in your refrigerator in a clean glass jar with a tightly fitting lid. Apply it to your rash as needed. You can also add 10 drops to a cup of water or tea for inner healing.
#11 – Make a baking soda poultice. Baking soda is good for absorbing oils and toxins and soothing inflammation. You can make a stiff paste of baking soda and cool water to apply to areas of skin affected by poison ivy.
Spread the paste evenly over your rash and allow it to dry. Rinse it off gently with cool water and follow up with a soothing treatment such as jewelweed juice or aloe vera gel.
#12 – Make a baking soda compress. If your rash is severe and you have open blisters, mix a couple of teaspoons of baking soda into a quart of cool water. Soak a washcloth in this mixture and lay it over the affected area of skin. Repeat as needed.
#13 – Take a baking soda or Himalayan salt bath. If you have poison ivy rash over a large area of skin, pour half a box of baking soda or one or two cups of Himalayan salt into a cool/lukewarm bath and soak for half an hour. Pat your skin dry and apply a soothing, natural moisturizer such as aloe vera gel.
#14 – Take an oatmeal bath. Put a cup full of plain, dry oatmeal in a cotton sack or old cotton sock. Tie it shut and toss it into your cool or lukewarm bath. Take a good, long soak. After your bath, pat your skin dry very lightly or allow your skin to air dry. You should have a fine film of oatmeal residue over your skin. This will help reduce itching and irritation.
#15 – Make oatmeal “milk”. You can also soak your oatmeal bundle in a jar or bowl of cool water and use the resulting “milk” to treat your rash.
Squeeze the bundle of oats directly over your rash to release the full strength oatmeal milk as needed to soothe inflammation and reduce itching. You can keep this setup in your fridge and use it as needed.
#16 – Make a cucumber or watermelon rind skin masque. Whole cucumbers and the white part of watermelon rinds contain phytochemicals that help reduce inflammation and have mild analgesic properties.
Use your blender to create a cooling, soothing paste of cucumbers or the white part of watermelon rind. Spread the paste over your rash and allow it to sit for half an hour or so. Rinse it off gently with cool water.
Natural Remedies for Poison Ivy
What To Do If You Are Unprepared
One awful thing about poison ivy is that you tend to encounter it when you are away from your usual resources.
If you suddenly find yourself itchy at a picnic, first wash with copious amounts of cool water, then give these tips a try!
- If no water is available, clean with rubbing alcohol or black tea or coffee.
- Find a jewelweed plant, split the stem and apply it directly to the skin.
- Clean and chew up some wild plantain leaves to create a poultice.
- Soak a napkin or cloth with chilled vodka to make a compress.
- Make a compress with cool black coffee or iced tea (no sugar!)
- Apply cucumber slices or watermelon rind directly.
- Gently rub the area with a slice of lemon or lime.
- Rub the itchy area with the inside of a banana peel.
These natural, anti-itch quick fixes also work well for other itch-producing situations such as mosquito bites, bee stings and the like.
How To Identify Plantain
It’s important to understand that it will take a week-to-ten-days for your poison ivy rash to resolve completely. Even if it seems to be gone in a shorter period of time, continue keeping the area clean and using soothing natural remedies as needed for a couple of weeks.
If you would prefer not to use home remedies, or if you have not found these types of remedies effective for you, try using over-the-counter (OTC) products to soothe itching and dry the blisters. Some good examples include:
- Corticosteroid salves and ointments
- Aluminum acetate
- Calamine lotion
- Zinc carbonate
- Zinc acetate
- Zinc oxide
Keep in mind that even if you go with OTC medicines, you should still wash the affected area once or twice a day and treat it consistently for a couple of weeks for best results.
Is Poison Ivy Rash Contagious?
Once you have cleaned the urushiol oil off your skin, you will not spread the rash to others. However, the if oil remains on your clothing, your boots or shoes, your tools, your pets, your furnishings or any other surface.
The residual urushiol oil will cause you and others to develop poison ivy rash. This is why it is so important to clean up quickly and thoroughly after possible exposure to poison oak, ivy or sumac.
When Should You See A Doctor?
With regular care and treatment, poison ivy rash should be little more than an annoyance, and it should clear up in a week-to-ten-days. If it doesn’t, you should see a doctor. A trip to your doctor (or emergency room) is also advised if you have any complications, such as:
- Signs of infection such as tenderness, pus and/or soft, yellow scabs
- High fever (greater than 100 degrees Fahrenheit)
- Rash over a large area of skin
- Itching that cannot be relieved
- Inability to sleep due to itching
- Worsening of symptoms
- Rash around your eyes
- Eyelid swollen shut
- Rash on your face
- Rash on your genitals
- Difficulty breathing
- Generalized itching
Medical personnel may need to treat you immediately if your condition is very severe or life-threatening. Alternately (or additionally) you may need to see a dermatologist ( a doctor who specializes in skin conditions).
A good dermatologist will be able to pinpoint the cause of your rash. He or she will be able to write you a prescription for oral and topical medications such as prednisone, steroid ointments and antibiotics.
Poison Ivy Treatment by Dermatology
Urushiol is a powerful allergen, and no human is immune to it. Even those who believe they are immune will eventually build up sensitivity with repeated exposure.
That’s why it is so important to take proactive steps to avoid coming in contact with poison ivy, oak and sumac.
Unfortunately, these plants are so common that it is easy to be exposed without knowing it.
Light contact with any part of the plant or with a surface that has come in contact with the plant can cause an allergic reaction, which may take several days to manifest.
For these reasons, if you live an active, outdoor life it’s impossible to avoid contact with urushiol altogether. By keeping your eyes open and practicing good cleanup habits when you come in from the great outdoors, you can greatly reduce your chances of suffering an itchy rash.
If/when you do come in contact with poison ivy, follow the tips and advice presented here to stay itch-free!