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Is there a quick cure for poison ivy?

The discomfort associated with poison ivy can be treated quickly to provide relief.

While not a cure, a cool shower my relieve some of the itching of poison ivy. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
While not a cure, a cool shower my relieve some of the itching of poison ivy.

Is There a Quick Cure for Poison Ivy?

Anyone who has ever come into contact with poison ivy and developed an itchy rash may have asked, Is there a quick cure for poison ivy? This uncomfortable skin reaction, called allergic contact dermatitis, occurs in people who are sensitive to the urushiol oil found in poison ivy, as well as poison oak and poison sumac. Within minutes of coming into physical contact with poison ivy, the urushiol oil starts to penetrate the skin.

Over the next 12 to 72 hours, a rash will appear with small red bumps that itch, swell and eventually form blisters -- though it may take seven to ten days for first-time exposure. The rash only appears on areas of skin that were exposed to the urushoil oil. Poison ivy rashes may take as long as two weeks to completely crust over and heal, though severe cases may last much longer. Most people dont want to suffer through the discomfort for that long and look for a quick cure to reduce symptoms and stimulate healing. If a person reacts quickly enough, allergic contact dermatitis might be avoided altogether.

Neutralize the Urushiol Oil

Once contact has been made with poison ivy, the likelihood of a reaction can be reduced by washing the exposed skin with soap and water as soon as possible. Special attention should be paid to scrubbing under the fingernails to prevent the urushiol oil from spreading. In addition, any clothing, tools or other items that may have come into contact with the poison ivy should be washed since they may be contaminated with the oil.

A poison ivy cleanser can be purchased from most pharmacies or outdoor sports supply stores to have on-hand when immediate access to soap and water is not available. A thin layer of the cleanser is used to neutralize the oil on the skin that has been exposed to poison ivy. However, the skin should still be washed thoroughly with soap and water as soon as possible.

Natural Relief of Poison Ivy Symptoms

Once an outbreak progresses, the affected person will want to find relief from the itching as quickly as possible. Since the rash causes a hot and itchy sensation, patients often find respite by taking a cold oatmeal bath or cool shower. The Mayo Clinic recommends using cool compresses to areas affected by poison ivy. Moisten a compress with cool water and leave on the skin for 15 to 30 minutes several times throughout the day.

Medications to Relieve Poison Ivy Symptoms

Calamine lotion and hydrocortisone cream can be applied directly to the affected areas to help stop itching and swelling. Overuse of coricosteroid creams can lead to serious problems, so be certain to use as directed. To dry out the rash and relieve itching, patients might try over-the-counter soaking products that contain aluminum acetate. If topical treatments do not help, oral antihistamines can help block the histamines and reduce itching. For severe cases that require a physicians intervention, steroids may be given orally or through injections.

If a person develops a severe allergic reaction after coming into contact with a poison ivy plant, such as difficulty breathing or dizziness, emergency medical personnel should be contacted immediately for assistance. Other instances in which medical attention is required include:

  • Inhaling the smoke of burning poison ivy plants
  • Rash on lips, eyes or genitals
  • A rash oozing yellow pus, smells bad, or has increased pain (all signs of infection)
  • A severe reaction to poison ivy in the past

Learn to Identify Poison Ivy

Anyone going hiking or into wooded or brushy areas should learn to identify poison ivy. Poison ivy has three leaves together on one stem, hence the old saying, Leaflets three, leave it be. The stem has a fuzzy outer shell and throughout the seasons, the colors change. In the spring, it may appear reddish in appearance while turning green later in the season.

Myths About Poison Ivy

A poison ivy rash is not contagious -- though the oil from the plant is easily spread. It can only come from contact with the urushiol oil, and the blisters do not contain the oil. In addition, the rash cannot spread from one part of the body to another. It only spreads if the urushiol oil is still on the hands and thus spreads to other areas. A common myth is that dead poison ivy plants cannot cause a reaction. However, the urushiol oil has been known to stay active on plants, clothing and other surfaces for up to five years. Finally, just because a person has never reacted to poison ivy in the past doesnt mean it cannot happen in the future. The more frequently a person is exposed, the more likely a reaction is to occur.

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