About two million Americans break out with a poison ivy rash every year, and some experience more severe symptoms such as cramps, diarrhea, and swelling of the throat. For the inflammation, itching, and blistering, there are safe, natural poison ivy remedies, topical treatments which can bring relief and speed the healing process.
What Poison Ivy Looks Like
Poison ivy either grows down low on the ground or in a hairy climbing vine attached to something like a tree. It is a plant that grows in leaves of three from a stem. The leaves are light to dark green and in the fall turn a reddish color.
Identifying Poison Ivy
Poison ivy is a three-leaved plant with shiny leaves that turn bright red early in fall. It is said to be shaped like a mitten because two of the leaves are opposite each other with a short stem, while the third leaf has a longer stem and sticks out in the front.
Poison ivy develops small yellow or green flowers and whitish berries. Western poison ivy is a low-growing shrub. Eastern poison ivy is a hairy vine. Be careful because many Midwestern states may have either variety.
Poison ivy is a problem for hikers and outdoor workers, but it can surprise just about anybody who spends time outdoors. It typically grows along fence lines or up trees, and it seems to like areas where the soil has been disturbed. Just about any overgrown brushy area may contain poison ivy.
Poison Ivy Facts
The poison ivy plant is closely related to poison oak, and poison sumac. All three are found growing across North America, from suburbia to deep in the forest, although poison ivy is more commonly found in the eastern half of the United States, poison oak in the western half, and poison sumac, near swamps and wetlands. As they create a similar reaction, and generally respond to the same poison ivy remedies, all three plants are sometimes simply called poison ivy.
Poison Ivy’s Itchy Rash
Poison ivy contains urushiol oil which causes an allergic reaction in most people. Even people who do not immediately appear to be allergic may develop a reaction after repeated exposure.
About three days after contact with the plant or its oil, an itchy rash known as contact dermatitis develops. This uncomfortable rash lasts about three weeks. It consists of raised and irritated bumps in streaks or patches. Scratching the rash may cause further infection leading to blisters.
Contrary to popular belief, poison ivy is not contagious, and scratching does not cause it to spread unless there is urushiol oil under the finger nails. Direct contact with the urushiol oil is the only cause of poison ivy rash. However, urushiol oil is a very persistant substance that can remain toxic on tools, shoes and clothing for up to five years. Exposure to an amount of urushiol oil smaller than a grain of salt can cause contact dermatitis.
Symptoms of Poison Ivy
Symptoms of contact with poison ivy are reddish inflamed skin that has red pimples or blister-like bumps, burning and/or itching of the area, and sometimes a fever. The rash can get gooey and runny and it needs to dry out. You will most likely get poison ivy on the hands, arms, legs, and feet and sometimes you will get it on other body parts such as your back or stomach if you were lying on the ground and it touched you there. If you get it on the face or it goes toward the genital area don’t fool around, go see a doctor right away. Also, if the rash seems to be extreme, don’t use the following natural remedies, instead, go to the emergency room.
If you have never had poison ivy you will never understand the constant nagging itch and burning it creates. You can’t sit still, you can’t sleep, and you will do just about anything to make it stop. Unfortunately scratching at it isn’t going to help. If the blisters are scratched you run the risk of getting an infection along with everything. In normal circumstances the rash will clear up in about 7 to 14 days, but those days are miserable.
Immediate First Aid for Poison Ivy Contact
Immediately after suspected exposure to poison ivy, cleanse the affected area with rubbing alcohol and rinse with a lot of water. Alternatively, wash immediately with an over-the-counter poison ivy remover. Fortunately, these products have gotten more effective in recent years. It seems that different people obtain different results with these products, so it may be worthwhile to try a few of them over time. Some recommended brands of poison ivy wash include:
- Burt’s Bees Poison Ivy Soap
How to Treat Poison Ivy
When a person knows they have come in contact with poison ivy, they should wash the area with plain cool water as soon as possible. Do not use soap to wash the exposed area. Since urushiol is an oil, the soap will make it move around on the body. After washing with just plain cool water, they can then take a shower with soap and warmer water. The key is to get the oil off of the body as soon as possible. Wash any clothing or shoes that have come in contact with the poison ivy as well.
Some people are highly allergic to the plant and have to get medical treatment for it. If the person starts to run a fever, has a rash on the face or around the genitals, or the rash does not go away, it is a good time to see the doctor. With others, it is just a matter of weeks before the rash will go away on its own.
Just remember that the poison ivy oils can be carried on the family pet, clothes, shoes and any other thing that can come in contact with the plant. If someone is burning the ivy plant, do not breath in the smoke. as this can cause a rash as well.
How to stop the spread
Since poison ivy can quickly spread through contact, it is best to not to spread it. Most experts recommend washing the affected areas thoroughly to remove the oil. Using a lot of soap and water will work.
Others claim that putting rubbing alcohol on an exposed area will remove more oil than washing only with soap and water. It should be noted that when using rubbing alcohol to wash off poison ivy, it will also take away your skin’s natural protection for a period of time. This will leave skin more open to poison ivy, sumac and oak. It is best not to revisit the woody area if using rubbing alcohol.
Try taking some baking soda and a wet washcloth. Sprinkle baking soda onto the itchy area and rub it vigorously. This will provide some temporary relief for itchy skin. It will also help dry out of the oils from the poison ivy.
Some have suggested using Vicks Vapor Rub. The mentholated rub seems to clear up some of the itching of contact dermatitis.
In some cases, doing nothing is the best solution. Don’t scratch and avoid contact to other people and other parts of the body.
Others may try chamomile lotion to cool the skin. Also remember not to scratch the itches. Irritated skin will become more agitated with addition scratches. Also, scratches itches may spread the oils beyond the affected area.
Poison Ivy Relief
For extreme cases of poison ivy, especially those involving the face or genitals it is always best to consult a doctor or pediatrician. Also, it is possible to irritate the inside of the throat, lungs and stomach by breathing the smoke from burning poison ivy. This condition must be treated by a doctor.
For more manageable cases of contact dermatitis, there are many remedies available. Beware of “home cures” such as bleaching the skin. This does not work and it can be dangerous. Try the following:
- make a jewelweed poultice;
- soak in Aveeno Oatmeal Bath;
- take Benadryl;
- apply Caladryl, Dermisil or Cortaid to relieve the itch;
- use products containing menthol, benzocaine or pramoxine to numb the itch;
- dry up weeping blisters with Ivy Dry or calamine lotion.
Simple Poison Ivy Remedies
- If you have been in contact with poison ivy and know it, never wash yourself down in warm to hot water. The plant gives off an oil and in warm water this oil disperses itself and spreads. If you wash in cold to cool water, it will not disperse. Never get in a bathtub after known contact as you can spread the oil to areas you don’t want to get poison ivy rash.
- Apple cider vinegar can be dabbed on the affected area throughout the day to neutralize the effects of urushiol. Vinegar will sting at first.
- Make an oatmeal paste by mixing dry oats with water, then delicately rub onto the poison ivy rash. Oats are rich in soothing saponins, skin-repairing silica, and nerve-nourishing B vitamins. Also, an oatmeal bath in tepid water will help relieve the itching and keep moisture within the skin.
- Aloe vera gel will also provide cooling relief for the itching and burning, reduce the inflammation, and protect the skin from infection. Apply as needed.
- Black tea bags, soaked in water and then cooled, can act as a soothing antiseptic for the poison ivy rash.
- Honey is also beneficial for healing. If possible, mix with golden-seal powder to help reduce the inflammation at the same time.
- Tea tree oil is an incredibly potent antibacterial, anti-fungal, and antiseptic cleansing agent. It both helps to remove dead tissue and protect the new healing tissue at the same time.
- Soak in cool or tepid water with epsom salts and a few drops of calming lavender essential oil.
- Knowing that poison ivy disperses an oil it is interesting to know that kitchen products known to dissolve grease will generally help dissolve this oil as well. Just rub some grease attacking dishwashing detergent on the area and rinse with cool water. This will probably sting a bit, but you will be happy you did it in a few hours.
- Combine equal parts buttermilk, vinegar, and salt. Rub this into the rash. It will be painful at first but then all of a sudden you will feel relief.
- Make a paste of baking soda and water and spread it on the rash. This works just as well as Calamine Lotion.
- A banana peel has been known to ease the pain of poison ivy. Rub the inside of the peel on the area and it will cool everything down and make it feel better.
Interestingly enough, a natural remedy for poison ivy usually grows very near to it. It is called Jewel Weed and is tall and lanky and has thick stems that are filled with sap. There are little peach orange colored flowers that, when ripe, will explode open when touched to spread seeds. You can just break a branch and apply the sap to the skin or you can make an infusion by placing a handful of the plant material in 2 pints of water. Bring to a boil and simmer to 15 minutes. Cool, then strain and apply the liquid to the affected area.
Obviously some of these remedies aren’t much different in the “messy” area than Calamine Lotion so here is something you can do. If the rash is on your hands and feet apply the remedy and cover with cotton socks. If it is on your arms and legs you can get long cotton socks (white only) and cut off the toe. Treat the area with the remedy and then put the sock up leaving your hands and/or feet hanging out.
How to Use Topical Treatments for a Poison Ivy Rash
Poison ivy remedies range from oatmeal to epsom salts, but which is the best one to use? People react differently to different topical treatments, just as people have varied reactions to poison ivy in the first place. The best thing to do is to try one to three at a time, for example aloe vera gel for relief along with tea tree oil to protect against infection, followed by a soothing oatmeal bath in the evening, then monitor the body’s reaction. All of these poison ivy remedies are safe and natural, so experimenting with different salves and oils will not result in negative side effects.
Calamine Lotion is the best commercial product to use on poison ivy rash but it does leave a pink residue on the skin that can be transferred to your clothing, bedding and furniture. Here are a few natural remedies for the rash and itch of poison ivy that are just as effective.
Best way Treating Poison Ivy Organically
Natural treatments and home remedies for poison ivy contact offer a variety of solutions for poison ivy sufferers. From applications which help prevent the rash altogether to treatments for existing rash and sores, summer relief may be as close as the nearest health food store or home medicine cabinet.
Poison Ivy Prevention with Vinegar
Scrubbing skin with soap and water within minutes of contact often prevents poison ivy rash, but a rinse with apple cider vinegar within 30 minutes of contact often has the same effect with a greater window of time for treatment. Hikers and campers can also carry a mist bottle filled with vinegar for treating skin that makes contact with the itchy leaves.
If the rash develops, many sufferers apply apple cider vinegar to the affected area using pads or a brief soak to help alleviate some of the symptoms and speed up healing time.
Treat Poison Ivy with Jewelweed Extract
One of the most popular poison ivy treatments is organic jewelweed extract. The plant’s oil can be extracted from true jewelweed plants, but the process is difficult and a mistake renders the extract ineffective.
Jewelweed extract is easy to purchase from organic vendors or health food stores for a reasonable price. Consumers should always check the label or consult a clerk to ensure the product they purchase is an authentic extract capable of treating poison ivy symptoms.
Hot Water Treatment for Poison Ivy Prevention
The constant desire to scratch the welts and sores caused by poison ivy only makes the experience worse (and giving in could spread the rash to other parts of the body). Benadryl and other over-the-counter medications are typical choices, but a simple treatment that requires neither messy creams nor medication is the hot water solution.
As simple as turning on a faucet tap, hot water (as hot as skin can bear) alleviates itching for hours or even days, when applied to the rash. Sufferers should exercise caution to avoid burning their skin with scalding or boiling water, but the tap water should be hot enough to cause slight redness. By “burning” away the oils that cause the rash to itch, the desire to scratch vanishes and the rash heals more quickly.
In cases of a severe reaction to poison ivy, consult a physician. Topical treatments can help a poison ivy rash and aid the healing process, but they are not sufficient for high fevers, difficulty breathing, and general malaise.