First, let me say that I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on tv. The advice, articles, and recipes that I post on this site are based on my own experiences in life, either my own or directly from close friends and family.
That being said, let me share with you something that brings me great personal Displeasure. I am extremely allergic to the following plants:
Poison Ivy ~ Poison Oak ~ Poison Sumac
When I say allergic, I don’t mean, I get a few itchy bumps if I touch the plant.. what I mean specifically is I am so allergic to these that I once got Poison Ivy in the middle of January -while living in MAINE, (with more than 3 feet of Snow on the ground) simply by touching dear husband’s hunting clothing when putting away Christmas decorations!
Let me give you some pointers on dealing with the horrendous effects of the leaves of 3:
- Only 1 nanogram (billionth of a gram) is needed to cause a rash
- The average is 100 nanograms for most people
- 1/4 ounce of urushiol is all that is needed to cause a rash in every person on earth (wonder if the terrorists ever thought of that!) *shudder*
- Urushiol oil stays active on any surface, including dead plants, for up to 5 years.
If you believe you have come into contact with ANY part of the plant (leaves, stem, roots, Flowers), Immediately Flush your skin with COLD water continually for at Least 15 minutes.
When you are first exposed and trying to remove the urushiol oil from the skin, Do Not use Warm water and do NOT use Hot water! Using warm or hot water simply opens up the pores in your skin and allows the urushiol oils to settle in, guaranteeing you misery within 48 hours.
If the urushiol oils are not completely removed from your skin within the first 15 minutes, they will bind with the proteins in your skin and you WILL get a rash.
Use COLD Water
Shower in Cool water if at all Possible, but do NOT bathe in a tubful of water, as you may find that when the rash erupts (& it will), you will have spread it to very delicate parts of your body that you did not wish it to be.
Contact Dermatitis aka The Rash from Hell
Once you’ve been exposed and the Urushiol oil binds with the skin it will take 24-72 hours for the rash to fully appear... your skin may feel tight, swollen, hot and itchy. That is not to say that you won’t see bumps or the beginnings of a rash, but for it to be done spreading it will take about 72 hours.
To Burn or Not to Burn
Burning Any of the Plants (Ivy/Oak/Sumac) can result in the rash in your eyes and respiratory system, so be cautious when you burn leaves/brush in the spring and fall. Let me be as clear as grandma’s expensive fine crystal, DONT BURN THIS SHIT. If you think, even for a second, that your neighbors may be burning it, LEAVE THE AREA IMMEDIATELY.
Is it Spreading?
Well.. according to some (questionably licensed) Medical Professionals, poison ivy/oak cannot spread through the bloodstream, or by itching the rash.
However, Personally, I think this is complete BS and vehemently disagree with the establishment. Poison ivy absolutely can spread throughout the body systemically, with small patches of rashes appearing anywhere on the body after the first four days the rash appears.
Once it is on your body in one spot, it can reappear Anywhere regardless of how meticulously you wash your hands, apply creams, lotions or sprays.
After a few days (or following various treatments) the small bubbles will leak or ooze clear or yellowish liquid. This is normal and it will not cause the rash to spread more. The fluid is just plasma and while sticky and a bit gross, does not contain any urushiol oil. If you have large blisters, do not pop them. It’s very easy to get a secondary infection that is as equally as miserable as the rash itself.
Preventing Recurring Rashes
Did you know that the oils of the plants can remain on clothing for up to 5 years? So, if junior rolled around in the poison ivy while he was playing hide and seek and then threw his clothes on top of yours in the laundry basket and you just happen to toss a load of laundry in, you might have just caught yourself a nasty case of poison ivy, just by picking up his clothing and putting in the machine.
If your dog spot or cat fluffy walks through poison ivy, and you pet him/her, you can get it. Case in point, here is a photo of my hand. We went camping and took our sweet girl with us. Her leash was attached and since she doesn’t have a habit of running off, we allowed her to roam freely about the campsite with her leash attached.
She stepped off into the bushes to answer the call of nature and dragged her leash through some poison ivy, unbeknownst to me. About an hour after I walked her, I developed these blisters.
Treatment & Remedies
Treat poison ivy like you would lice or flea infestation- that is to say wash ALL the clothing, skin, bedding and toys that may have come into contact with a person covered in it. Washing clothing in your washer with regular detergent is just fine, no need to purchase special additives from the store.
My favorite Remedy for Poison Ivy is Jewelweed or Sweetfern- which just happens to grow right alongside them. Unfortunately, during certain times of the year, (like early April!) it can be rather difficult to find.
If I have access to either, then no further treatment is necessary as the poison ivy/oak/sumac heals within just a few days.
If you can be convinced that taking a bath would be soothing (at some point, you’ll TRY anything), you could grind 1/4 c of oatmeal into a fine powder, place it in a nylon sock under the running water and bathe in it. It will relieve the itch. Pay close attention to how much you are using and how often you are using it, it can wreak havoc on your plumbing if you use too much oatmeal.
Treatments I’ve Personally Tried
Bleach- often recommended online, it’s drying to the skin, can cause chemical burns and I don’t recommend it. I know of several older folks who did this years ago and experienced issues with their skin (sensitivity, pain) for YEARS afterward. (In short, don’t do it.)
Tea Tree Oil- this is often diluted in a small amount of water, applied with a clean cloth or cotton balls. I’ve personally tried this- it Does dry the rash up, and helps a bit with the itching (for about 3-4 hrs) on average. Unfortunately, some people experience allergic reactions to the tea tree oil, and once again, if you have neglected to remove ALL of the urushiol oil, it’ll spread.
Lemon & Salt– another foolish remedy I found on the web and was so desperate to try something/anything that I applied it. This one really sucks – you cut a lemon in half, douse it in salt and scrub. It results in a drying rash- broken blister bubbles, weeping poison ivy and a burning sensation that is matched by little else.
Preparation H– Once again, this is a remedy I saw online, several people swore by it. Upon application, it is slightly cooling, then warms for a few moments, then back to itching as usual within a few minutes.
Milk of Magnesia– Apply directly to the rash (externally!) with a cotton ball. This actually works pretty quickly and the relief lasts about an hour.
Hot Water – This remedy is one that again, is reserved for those in utter desperation. The idea is to place the affected part under water as hot as one can stand. This causes the body to release histamines (which is what makes you itch like hell!) and after several minutes, actually seems to overload the senses, bringing several hours of relief from itching. From experience, this does work, but it also opens the pores of your skin and lets any urushiol oils penetrate even deeper, causing more problems than its worth.
Rubbing Alcohol – once again, it depends on who you ask as to whether this works, some folks swear by it. Personally, if the alcohol is not at least 92%, it’s useless. Then again, I certainly wouldn’t apply 92% alcohol to a rash on a child!
A few others that have been mentioned over the years, baking soda paste, banana peel puree, chlorine paste (again with the bleach- yech), maple syrup, saran wrap, and Miracle Whip. While I could on in great detail about these items, I don’t recommend any of them.
Dish Detergent– while dish detergents can help break through the oils, be sure they are applied full strength, and rinse with cool water
Opting for Conventional Medicine– there have been times, (in winter, early spring) where my favorite herbal remedies have not been available- if you opt to go to the doctor they will more than likely prescribe a course of steroids (and if it’s severe enough, will give you a steroid shot before you leave the office).
They may suggest Hydrocortisone Creams, which can be purchased at your local grocery store, such as Walmart. What you might not know is that creams containing hydrocortisone are not particularly safe for use on the face. It thins the tissues of the face and can actually leave permanent marks.
Be aware that taking steroids suppresses your immune system and has several issues of its own. I experienced weight gain – 9 lbs in 1 week!, blurred vision (difficult to ascertain whether it was direct fault of the steroids or whether it was due to the blisters in my eyelids, hat in door syndrome (this is when all family members must first toss a hat through the doorway to determine if it’s safe to enter the home). You may laugh, I’m quite serious.
There are wonderful homeopathic preventative treatments that you can take (daily) to prevent a case, such as Rhus Tox.
I hope if you’ve come across this article we sincerely hope that it ‘s NOT because you are currently suffering from poison ivy/oak or sumac!