Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac: Avoiding it, Treating It
A man named Patrick had to have an angioplasty performed to open a blocked
artery to his heart. A friend of Patrick’s called a few days after the
procedure to find out how things went. “Well,” Patrick’s wife said, “his
poison ivy is really making him miserable.”
That’s how it is with poison ivy. It can’t compare with the seriousness
of a heart procedure, but the itch of it makes you feel like you’re going to
go nuts. Apparently, it can even make thoughts of an angioplasty fade into the
Not everyone is allergic to poison ivy, oak and sumac. But at any time in
your life, an allergy can appear. These plants contain an oil called urushiol,
which is found in all parts of the plants. It's this oil that gives you the
rash—if you’re allergic to it. Urushiol can get on your skin, your clothes
and even your pets. You can have a serious case of poison ivy, recover and then
get it all over again if you touch the oil that remained behind on something you
forgot to wash.
Here are three ways to do your best to avoid coming down with a poison ivy,
oak or sumac rash this summer:
Learn to recognize the leaves of the plants so that you can avoid contact
with them. Poison sumac is a tall shrub with 7 to 13 smooth-edged leaves.
It's found in swampy areas. Poison oak and ivy both have bigger, shiny
leaves that cluster in threes—hence the adage, “leaves of three, let
If you think you will be in an area that has these plants, apply Ivy Block
before you go out. This can prevent the rash from developing, or make the
rash less severe if it does develop. If you think you have been exposed,
remove and wash all clothing and shoes that have touched the plant, wash
your skin with soap and water, use cotton balls to apply rubbing alcohol to
your skin and rinse with water, or try washing with Tecnu soap. It’s
important to do all of this within two to six hours after exposure.
Sometimes, you’re exposed to the plant and you don’t realize it until
the rash appears. The rash generally shows up within one or two days after
exposure and usually lasts about two weeks. Over-the-counter remedies, like
calamine lotion, can offer temporary relief in most cases, but there is no
cure for this supremely itchy condition. It's important to keep the rash
clean, especially if it begins to ooze, to prevent infection. You may also
want to try these alternative remedies:
- Run hot
water over the rash—very hot, but not hot enough to burn you. The itch will intensify briefly, then lessen for several hours.
- Make a paste
of baking soda and witch hazel to dry out the area; cover with gauze.
If the rash is severe, develops on your face or genitals, or if you have a
fever, see your doctor for additional treatment. If there’s swelling in the
tongue, lips or throat; if you have a hard time swallowing or breathing; if you
feel weak or dizzy; if your mouth becomes blue; or if the rash causes loss of
consciousness, call 9-1-1 for emergency treatment.
The only good thing about poison ivy is that, eventually, it will go away.
American Institute for
Preventive Medicine; The Alternative Advisor: The Complete Guide to Natural
Therapies and Alternative Treatments.