Home Remedies for Poison Ivy

Poison ivy rash (also called Rhus dermatitis or Toxicodendron dermatitis) is a red, itchy rash that is often marked by red bumps, blisters, and swelling. If your skin touches poison ivy or other plants in the same plant family, such as poison oak or poison sumac, you may develop an allergic skin reaction, thanks to the presence of urushiol, the oily resin found in the plant.

Poison Ivy
Cyndi Monaghan / Getty Images

What Does Poison Ivy Look Like?

When you're spending time outdoors, remembering the rhyme "leaves of three, let it be" can help you steer clear of poison ivy plants. With three leaflets to a stem, poison ivy may grow as a shrub or climbing vine, and its texture, shape, and color are all highly variable. Poison ivy is most prevalent in the eastern United States.

Although poison ivy rashes are often caused when the plant's leaves, stems, roots, or berries touch you directly, urushiol can also linger on your clothing, firewood, or a pet's fur and then transfer to your skin. Even inhaling the smoke from burned poison ivy plants can irritate your lungs, nasal passages, and throat.

Symptoms

Redness, itching, red bumps, swelling, and blisters signaling a poison ivy reaction typically show up anywhere from four hours to 10 days after exposure and often lasts one to four weeks (typically longer for a first attack, and shorter for a repeat attack). The location of the rash depends on the area of skin exposed to urushiol.

While the rash itself isn't contagious, contact with urushiol can spread the resin to someone else or to other parts of your body if it is not washed off after touching the plants. Although the clean rash won't spread from scratching, bacteria under your fingernails can set off a secondary infection.

Treatment

If you come in contact with poison ivy, cleaning the affected areas with rubbing alcohol, dish detergent, or simply soap and plenty of cool—not hot—water immediately after exposure can help control a poison ivy reaction. Applying an over-the-counter barrier cream made with bentoquatam (known to shield the skin against poison ivy) can offer protection as well. You should also wash any contaminated items or clothing with soap or detergent, and bathe your pets to get the oil out of their fur.

The condition is usually mild, though if severe, your healthcare provider may prescribe a corticosteroid. It's important to note that if you have severe poison-ivy symptoms (such as a fever higher than 100 degrees F, difficulty breathing or swallowing, have many blisters or have yellow fluid oozing from them, have large areas affected, or irritation in sensitive areas like eyes and mouth) seek immediate medical treatment.

Home Remedies for Poison Ivy

In mild cases of poison ivy rash, home remedies may help to relieve the itching and redness.

Although scientific support for natural remedies used to treat poison ivy is lacking, here are some of the more common home remedies used to relieve the red, itchy rash.

Menthol Cream or Lotion

An organic compound sourced from peppermint and other mint plants or made synthetically, menthol has a cooling effect on skin and is a counter-irritant (a substance that distracts from the itch).

Menthol is found in over-the-counter products like Gold Bond anti-itch lotion. Menthol can also be found in peppermint essential oil, however, it is crucial that essential oils always be diluted to a safe amount for use on irritated skin.

Colloidal Oatmeal

Soaking in a warm (but not hot) bath with colloidal oatmeal for 10 minutes or longer may help to soothe skin itching. Made from finely ground oats, colloidal oatmeal doesn't sink to the bottom of the bath. Instead, it is dispersed throughout the bath, coating skin and temporarily relieving the itch. Colloidal bath treatments and other oatmeal products are available at the drugstore.

Witch Hazel

Made from the leaves and bark of the Hamamelis virginiana plant, a liquid distillation of witch hazel can be applied topically to reduce itching and swelling.

Cool Compresses

Applying cool compresses 15 to 20 minutes per hour can soothe itchy skin. Soak a clean washcloth in cold water, wring it out, and apply it to itchy skin areas.

A Word From Verywell

Home remedies may help to soothe mild symptoms in some people, however, there is still little research on the effectiveness or safety. If you develop a skin rash, consult your healthcare provider. It's important to note that self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.

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