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Poison Ivy. You Can Still Get it Even as the Weather Changes! By Our October Student Pharmacist, Tracey Dowdell.

I don’t know about you, but I love going into the woods and escaping from all of the troubles of everyday life and achieving a moment of serenity. Braving the wilderness also means that I will potentially come into contact with some of the negative traits of the woods such as mosquitoes, snakes, spiders, and poison ivy.

In this blog post, I will address the various home treatment options for poison ivy.

Let’s start out with discussing what causes poison ivy. The itchy, blister rash that comes from contact with poison ivy is actually caused by the oil from the plant called urushiol. Even though it may look like everything in the woods is drying out and getting ready for winter, urushiol is still on the leaves and actually may be more abundant due to the dryness and cracking of the leaves. After contact with urushiol, approximately 50% of people develop signs and symptoms of poison ivy. The symptoms and severity differ from person to person.

Common symptoms of poison ivy include:

  • Intense itching
  • Skin swelling and redness
  • Blisters (little bubbles of skin that are filled with fluid)
    • FYI: touching the blisters or the fluid inside the blisters will not spread the rash (only the urushiol oil causes the rash).

The best way to treat poison ivy is to avoid it! Since it is bonfire season, please make sure that there are not any poison ivy plants on the wood that you will be burning. It is possible to get the rash from the oil being vaporized as it burns and coming into contact with your skin.

When you are in the woods, you need to know how to identify poison ivy. We all have heard the saying, “Leaves of three, let them be.” While the rhyming slogan is easy to remember, identifying poison ivy is not always that obvious. See the pictures in this blog to help you know poison ivy when you see it.

What to do when you know you have come into contact with poison ivy:

  • The first thing you should do is thoroughly wash your skin with a mild soap, such as Dial or Dawn dish soap.
    • The key is to not use fancy soaps, because the oils in these kinds of soaps will not allow the oil to be removed from your skin.
    • Don’t forget to thoroughly wash under your fingernails.
    • Next make sure you wash EVERYTHING that may have come into contact with the poison ivy.
      • This includes your clothes, dog/cat, and don’t forget your shoes and shoelaces!

Your rash should go away on its own within one to three weeks, but if the itching is unbearable you can do and use the following over the counter treatments to help relieve the itching:

  • Avoid scratching (scratching actually makes the itch worse).
  • Soak in oatmeal baths.
  • Apply cool, wet compresses such as washcloths or paper towels.
  • Apply calamine lotion.
  • If your rash has blisters and they begin to ooze fluid, use astringents containing aluminum acetate (Burrow’s solution™ or Domeboro™).
  • Steroid creams may be helpful if they are used during the first few days after symptoms develop.
    • Hydrocortisone 1% is available over the counter.
    • Antihistamines do not help to relieve itching caused by poison ivy.
      • The ones that make you sleepy (i.e. diphenhydramine aka: Benadryl™) can help you to ignore the itch while you are asleep.

Treatments you should avoid because they can make your rash worse:

  • Antihistamine creams or lotions (i.e. Benadryl™ or Allegra™ CREAM).
  • Pain relieving creams containing benzocaine.
  • Antibiotic creams containing neomycin or bacitracin (i.e. Neosporin™).

You should see your doctor or nurse if:

  • Your rash is severe.
  • Most of your body is affected.
  • Your face or genitals are affected.
  • You have a lot of swelling.
  • Your rash oozes pus or gives other signs of being infected.
  • Your rash does not get better after two to three weeks.

I hope you can enjoy the wonderful fall weather. I know I will be enjoying the outdoors this season!

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