How to Deal with Poison Oak and Poison Ivy

Poison ivy leaves How to Deal with Poison Oak and Poison Ivy

If you make contact with poison oak or poison ivy plants while enjoying the outdoors, chances are you’ll be dealing with it for at least a week. Here’s how to treat it.

How to Identify and Treat Poison Ivy

What Causes a Poison Ivy or Poison Oak Rash?

Poison ivy plants found in wooded areas across most of North America have three leaves and are green. Poison oak isn’t so easy to spot. It can have three, five, or even seven leaf clusters. Before an outdoor activity, it’s a good idea to take a look at some photos of these plants so you know how to identify them.

It’s always possible to accidentally brush up against these plants. While the plants themselves aren’t poisonous, the oil they produce causes a blistering rash with the slightest skin contact. If you’re suffering from a raised, red rash that itches terribly and you’ve recently spent time outside, you may have been exposed to one of these plants.

Use Itch-Relieving Ointments

A household staple for itchy rashes, calamine lotion is a great first step to soothe the itch. Calamine lotion is often messy when first applied, so opt for a nighttime application and let it fully dry before touching any surfaces.

Corticosteroids and diphenhydramine offer relief from itching, swelling, and hives -- symptoms of inflammation that may occur with poison oak or poison ivy rashes. While stronger-potency corticosteroids are prescription-only, you can get mild topical creams over the counter. Look for hydrocortisone or diphenhydramine-based ointments or lotions at your local pharmacy and apply them to the rash to relieve symptoms.

Keep the Area Dry

Try to limit your regular showers to about 5 minutes when you have a poison ivy or poison oak rash. Cooler showers can actually temporarily relieve the itch.

Pat the rash dry, taking care not to rub it. Be sure you use a clean towel with every bath or shower, as the spread of bacteria can cause infection if blisters are open. If the rash is oozing at all, keep it covered. Otherwise, exposure to the air can help dry it up more quickly.

Apply a Cool Compress

One of the most effective treatments for an itch is cold. The numbing effect of a cold compress can feel wonderful on a rash that itches relentlessly, and you can try this method several times throughout the day.

While it may be tempting to heap a pile of ice over your poison ivy or poison oak rash, don’t apply ice directly to the skin. Instead, use a cold gel pack. Don’t have one? Try a homemade compress of ice wrapped in a clean towel, or even a cold washcloth. It’s important that you only leave the compress on for 15-30 minutes at a time.

Don’t Scratch!

When a rash is itching at all hours of the day and night, refusing to scratch it can be very difficult, but it’s essential. Scratching will only keep it inflamed, and can potentially break the skin, causing oozing and even infection.

In order to avoid contact with poison ivy or poison oak in the future, always wear clothing that covers any exposed areas like arms and ankles. If you develop a fever, the rash worsens, or blisters are oozing pus, it’s time to see a doctor.

If you’re in the greater New York City area, Vanguard Dermatology’s experts can help diagnose and treat your poison oak or poison ivy rash so you can finally get some relief and prevent any long-term scarring.

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