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Get Rid of Poison Ivy

Updated on February 24, 2013

Poison Ivy Rashes Itch Severely

By the time the rash appears, treatment focuses on itch relief and shortening the duration of the rash.
By the time the rash appears, treatment focuses on itch relief and shortening the duration of the rash.

Mother Nature's Little Devil

Nothing ruins a camping trip or a day at the lake quicker than poison ivy. Unless you can identify it on sight, there’s a good chance that you’ll spend the next couple of weeks covered in an itchy, oozing rash. Even if you know what poison ivy looks like and you take precautions not to wade through the nasty underbrush, you can develop a rash if your dog runs through it or if you cut down, burn or otherwise try to destroy the plant.

A poison ivy rash is a form of contact dermatitis that results when urushiol, a potent irritant comes into contact with your skin. Within an hour of exposure to the plant, urushiol binds to the surface of your skin, seeping into the pores and making it difficult to wash away. Prevention is always the best route, but you wouldn’t be reading this if you’d successfully stayed away from poison ivy.

Learn to Identify Poison Ivy on Sight

Leaves of Three - Let it Be!
Leaves of Three - Let it Be!

Poison Ivy: Identification

Remember the old adage, “Leaves of Three – Let it be.” The poison ivy plant is easy to recognize and once you’ve seen it – you’ll know to steer clear. It often appears as a dense groundcover, although it’s actually a wood vine, which can climb trees and fences just as easily as it can wind its way through ditches and beneath shrubbery.

Poison ivy prefers at least some shade and it thrives in deep shade. The foliage appears in sets of three leaflets. New leaflets are a deep reddish color but they quickly turn green as they mature. At all stages of growth the plant emits urushiol, but during rapid growth in early spring and summer it emits more of the chemical. In autumn, the leaves turn a vivid shade of red, just before the plant dies back to its base for the winter.

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When you brush against a poison ivy plant, its urushiol coating rubs off on your skin or clothing. You won’t start to itch immediately, urushiol has a delayed and exaggerated effect, which usually appears 12 to 24 hours after exposure. Urushiol is invisible and odorless, so until you develop the rash – you can’t be sure it’s actually on your skin.

Walking through a stand of poison ivy isn’t the only way to contract the pesky oil. If you remove the plant from your yard, by hoeing, pulling it up by the roots or burning, it will release urushiol into the air where it can still make contact with your skin. Worse yet, you could inhale some of the toxic oil and develop a severe allergic reaction that requires prompt medical care.

Poison ivy rashes do not spread from human to human, but the urushiol oil can remain vital on clothing, sleeping bags, garden tool handles, shoes and other items for weeks.

Be Prepared Before the Rash Strikes

Poison Ivy Rash: Symptoms

If you’re not sure how you were exposed to urushiol, you might not immediately identify your itchy rash with poison ivy. In addition, other substances can trigger an identical skin rash, which includes itchy red blisters that resemble pimples filled with clear fluid. As the rash progresses, the blisters can erupt, resulting in a burning itching mess that eventually crusts over.

Your skin might feel tender and warm to the touch and it might feel thicker than normal and take on a scaly appearance as the rash progresses. Severe itching follows but scratching is not recommended because it damages the tender tissues around the blister, which can encourage the development of more blisters.

For most people, the rash lasts from one to three weeks and then clears up. If the rash covers more than ½ of your skin surface, or if it is severe and accompanied by swelling, call your doctor. Otherwise, you can get rid of it by treating the symptoms and preventing it from spreading to other parts of your body.

Poison Ivy: Home Treatments

Rash remedies are intended to soothe and reduce inching so the skin can heal. By scratching constantly, your fingernail damage the tissue beneath the skin, allowing poison ivy to spread farther. Keep your hands to yourself, but try some of these home remedies:

Submerge your feet or arms in a tub of hot water. The temp of the water should be as hot as you can stand it without being painful. When you do – the poison ivy blisters will feel as though you are scratching them intensely, giving you a bit of relief. After a minute or two, pat your skin almost dry and then sprinkle baking soda over the blister and smooth it in lightly. Repeat as needed. This will shorten rash duration and give you immediate itch-relief.

If you’re an herbalist – or you know somewhere you can purchase quality herbs, make a strong tea of one or more of the following herbs and use it as a wash or a spray directly on the rash. Effective herbs include lobelia, calendula, plantain, cattail, chamomile goldenseal, pennyroyal and sage. Let the tea steep for 15 minutes before straining and applying to your rash.

Add 1 cup of laundry bleach to a tub full of lukewarm water and soak for 30 minutes. The chlorine disinfects the rash, dries the blisters and promotes healing.

Lather up in the shower with Dawn (yes, it has to be Dawn) dishwashing liquid as soon as you can after exposure to poison ivy. You can also use it later during the rash stage, but it’s most effective if applied before the blisters appear.

Ice the itch for temporary relief.

Medications and Over-the-Counter Products

The best thing you can use to get rid of poison ivy is called Zanfel, but it’s pricey. Wallgreens carries a generic version that is just as good.

Technu is another poison ivy product. It comes with two steps, a skin wash that binds urushiol and keeps it off your skin and an anti-itch ointment. Both are somewhat effective, but not a good as Zanfel.

Corticosteroid ointments work by promoting your body’s immunity to urushiol.

Take Benadryl as directed on the package. Benadryl is an antihistamine that reduces your body’s production of histamines. Histamine is the chemical that triggers the itching and the formation of blisters.

When to Worry

Most cases of poison ivy clear up in a couple of weeks without special treatment and a week earlier if you follow some of the above treatments. In some cases, however, the toxin spreads internally, called a systematic response. If this occurs, you could notice new blisters popping up rapidly on parts of your body that were not exposed to poison ivy. Your doctor night prescribe a type of steroid to treat a systematic reaction.


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    • Bedbugabscond profile image

      Melody Trent 4 years ago from United States

      I have a whole mess of poison ivy climbing the side of my house. The issue is that the cable box is back there and I need to get to it to reroute the line. Also, there is a fence so it is a tight squeeze. What is the best way to clear it all without getting poison ivy myself?