How to End the Itch: Poison Ivy Relief Made Simple

Poison ivy is a rapidly spreading plant which has an oil, urushiol, which causes allergic reactions and can travel even faster on anything that touches it.

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Though the plants that thrive on Long Island are largely safe, poison ivy is a native plant that can wreak havoc on your skin due to contact with its sap oil, which often causes strong allergic reactions.  The sap oil, urushiol, is released from the plant when it is bruised, damaged, or burned, which explains why poison ivy growing on the side of trails may be particularly dangerous, since the oils will be released if someone steps on the plant.  One can even develop a rash merely from touching something else that has come in contact with urushiol, such as by touching gardening tools, clothing, or even pets that have come in contact with poison ivy.  Though poison ivy may plague some of the areas that you love to walk through, such as hiking trails or dog parks, there are many different ways to approach the pain and itch that comes along with the allergic reaction caused by the poison ivy plant.  Here is a brief guide to poison ivy rashes and how to treat them:

Is it a Poison Ivy Rash?
First, you need to be able to properly identify your rash as being a result of poison ivy.  Poison ivy rashes, also known as contact dermatitis, appear in most people as a red rash with bumps or blisters.  The rash appears anywhere between a few hours or a few days after contact, and may include bumps, patches, streaking, or weeping blisters that itch or swell. The fluid from blisters caused by an urushiol reaction are not contagious, but should be treated immediately. The rash typically lasts two or three weeks.

Poison Ivy Rash Remedies
If you suspect you have come into contact with poison ivy, immediately wash skin with rubbing oil, degreasing soap, dishwashing detergent, or special poison ivy plant soap and lots of water.  To ease the itchiness, try these remedies:

  • Apply an over-the-counter corticosteroid cream, calamine lotion, or hydrocortisone cream
  • Take oral antihistamines, such as Benadryl, which may help you sleep better through the itchiness
  • Soak in a cool-water bath with an oatmeal-based soap, such as Aveeno
  • Put cool, wet compresses on the area
  • Wash the affected area with soap and lukewarm water, and then apply vinegar to the affected area with a cotton ball, and rinse

For more severe rashes, see your doctor for corticosteroid pills.

Preventing Rashes from Poison Ivy

Though the rash itself can last a long time, there are ways you can try to prevent coming into contact with urushiol again.  Here are some tips from the CDC:

  • Wear long sleeves, long pants, boots, and socks when working in the deep woods. 
  • Immediately wash clothes that may have come in contact with poison ivy.
  • Wash pets that may have come into contact with poison ivy so that they do not spread the plant’s oils around the home.
  • Be sure to wear gloves when gardening around poison ivy.
  • After using gardening tools around poison ivy, clean the tools using rubbing alcohol. According to the Centers for Disease Control, urushiol oils can remain active on items for up to 5 years, so be sure to wash everything that came in contact with the plant completely.
  • Never burn poison ivy plants – the urushiol oil will become airborne, and can cause lung irritation.

Video via Academy of Dermatology

[Source: Centers for Disease Control, Academy of Dermatology]