How to Treat a Poison Ivy Rash
Leaves of three, leave it be!
Summer means more time in your garden, but this also means there is a greater chance that you'll be exposed to poison ivy. The plant is known for its shiny green "leaves of three" that grow from the woody stem of the main plant and the resulting rash that comes along with brushing up against both of them. The severity of that rash can vary from person to person. To help you manage the itch and heal your skin fast, we spoke to the pros to find out what you can do the next time you have a run-in with this insidious plant.
Create an action plan.
If you think you've been in contact with poison ivy, you will likely know for sure within 24 to 48 hours, says Dr. Debra Jaliman, a board-certified New York City dermatologist, the Assistant Clinical Professor of Dermatology at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and author of the book, Skin Rules: Trade Secrets from a Top New York Dermatologist ($10.39, amazon.com). "Not everyone who comes into contact with the oil, called urushiol, from the poison ivy plant will be allergic to it," she notes. "Some people are just not sensitive to the oil and don't react to it."
But let's say you're one of the unlucky majority who does typically have a severe reaction: After you've been exposed, you should try and wash the areas of your skin (you need to scrub urushiol off, so use a dish soap and go over the area at least three times) that touched the plant and change out of your clothes as quickly as possible. "Even after 30 to 60 minutes, you can wash off the oil that you think you came in contact with," she explains. "Your reaction, if any, will be much less severe."
Consider your treatment options.
If you're experiencing the telltale signs of a reaction—raised, weepy, itchy, red bumps—soak in a cool water bath with an oatmeal-based body wash. "You can also use cool compresses throughout the day," she says, adding that applying aloe vera gel is another way to help soothe the skin. "Make sure it's a pure one and not one with fragrances added." Over-the-counter cortisone creams can lessen the itch associated with the rash, and oral antihistamines can help with inflammation and the urge to scratch. Call your doctor if you get a fever, oozing blisters, or if the rash spreads over your eyes or into the genital area; if the swelling doesn't seem to stop or you begin to have trouble breathing, seek emergency medical care, notes Dr. Jaliman.
Once you've been exposed, you'll want to prevent future exposure—after all, getting poison ivy once is enough for a lifetime. If you contracted the rash while gardening in your own yard, you have poison ivy growing; Dr. Jaliman suggests hiring a professional to remove it. "An herbicide can also be applied, which will kill the plant and inhibits its growth," she says. Just wait until your rash is completely gone before going back into the garden. "It can take up to two to three weeks for your reaction to go away, depending on the severity and how much you came into contact with," she explains. "You don't want to further aggravate your skin if you come in contact with more in your garden if you return to soon."