Cow Itch- when pretty becomes Painful!

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Perhaps you are familiar with the old adage “leaves of three, let it be”- you might be less familiar with a fairly common plant that causes a rather nasty condition- Cow Itch. In the springtime, you may have seen this vine climbing amongst the trees in your backyard or cascading along fences, sporting gorgeous yellow flowers.

cow-itch-when-pretty-becomes-painful

It’s known as the Carolina Jasmine or “Jessamine” (Gelsemium sempervirens). It does not have 3 leaves, but it does have a heady, intoxicating scent that may unwittingly bring you insufferable burning, itch, and pain for several weeks.

Carolina Jasmine is not the only cause of Cow Itch- you can also get this beastly rash from trumpet vine (Campsis radicans) . . .

Trumpet Vine

Trumpet Vine causes Cow Itch

First, it starts with a burning sensation, the skin feels hot to the touch and you’re wondering what you got into- you start thinking, Did I get too much sun? Maybe some windburn? Then, within hours the skin becomes red, inflamed, swollen and extremely itchy.

The area covered in the rash becomes sensitive to both heat and cold. If you go outside and the sun hits it, it starts burning, if you experience a change of temperature- perhaps in the cold section of a grocery store, it starts burning and itching.

Here is a photo of the Cow Itch rash, which was caused by a Carolina Jasmine Flower. I know this for a fact because I went for a walk with my husband and we saw the flowers, I mentioned to him how beautiful they were and how GOOD they smelled and he picked one and handed it to me. I rubbed the dang flower on my cheek, DUH and by the next day my eyes were swollen SHUT and my face looked like this:

cow-itch-when-pretty-becomes-painful

It seems no matter what you do it will burn and itch. That’s only Day 1.

By the end of day 2 – it’s become very prominent- you start wondering if you somehow caused it to spread because suddenly, the very small area that you experienced so much grief the day before has tripled or quadrupled in size!

Days 3 & 4: By now you’ve tried just about every remedy you can think of, the burning and itching is intense. NOTHING alleviates it for more than 15-20 minutes at a time. You might have considered going to the doctor- I did. They told me that I had “Contact Dermatitis”.

No kidding doc, I’m not here for your $350 confirmation of what I already know, I’m here for a steroid shot to make this hot mess go away! So I received a steroid shot, which did NOT make the cow itch go away. They gave me steroid pills and a prescription strength “Benadryl” which also did NOTHING to alleviate the intense itching and burning.

Week 3: Here you can see that the stuff has started to weep a bit and dry in cracked little scales, particularly on the chin. It’s still very inflamed, the skin is very tight and feels like botox- there are absolutely no wrinkles left in the skin.

cow-itch-when-pretty-becomes-painful

Here’s a shot of a Man’s arm

He was digging some Fence post holes and reached down into the holes to scoop out the dirt. His arm came in contact with Trumpet vine root, which had been broken/cut by the post hole digger. This is 48 hours after the initial contact:

cow-itch-when-pretty-becomes-painful

Having been through this a time or twelve! Here are a few remedies that we’ve tried, some with success, some without success.

Things we Tried

Dawn Dish Soap- If you think you’ve come into contact with the plant, immediately wash the area with COLD water and dawn dish soap. Flush with plenty of COLD water. Do NOT use warm or hot water as this causes the pores of your skin to open and allows MORE of the plants’ oils to get into your skin

Milk of Magnesia– the el-cheapo dollar store brand of PLAIN milk of magnesia. DO NOT INGEST IT- It’ll give you the squirts, instead, apply it liberally to the rash with a cotton ball. It will look utterly disgusting like you’re wearing MIME make-up, but it will relieve the intense burning/itching that you will otherwise suffer through.

Apple Cider Vinegar– As a wash, this works wonderfully to force the cow itch to dry up quickly. Be forewarned- this STINGS when you apply it, it burns for at least 10 minutes, but then brings relief from itching for about an hour per application.

Steroids– IF you get More than 1 shot and IF they give you about DOUBLE the dose you would otherwise need for a bad case of poison ivy. Otherwise- the stuff is as useless as teats on a bull.

Blue Star Ointment– this will dry up cow itch and provide relief from the itching, you must apply it at least 3x’s daily for the entire time it takes the rash to go away

Preparation H– if you’re at your wits end and nothing is working- I’ve had good success with using preparation H cream to reduce the inflammation and make the itch go away. It’s not what it’s intended for, but it does work at relieving some of the inflammation.

What Doesn’t Work

Honey- I was told that honey would work to relieve itching, I applied it as a “mask” left it on for about an hour, rinsed it off with cool water. It did NOT make it better, it did make my skin feel like I’d been botoxed!

Bleach- don’t even try it

Onion Slices/Juice– onions have the power to heal burns, so in an effort to give it the old college try, I applied sliced onions to it. It didn’t burn, it didn’t itch, it did feel good, but I suspect that was due to the cooling effect that only lasted while the onions were on there. It didn’t make it heal any faster.

Other little known facts

  • Most doctors/nurses have NO CLUE what this is aside from “contact dermatitis”. We live in the south where Trumpet vine and Jessamine grow rampant and VERY Few people seem to have any clue what-so-ever about its existence. Be prepared for a doctor to ask you over and over again what Foods you are allergic too, what detergent you recently used, and what shampoo & soaps you use.
  • It DOES Spread to other parts of your body via your bloodstream, which means if you have the rash primarily on your arm, it can (and will) show up in little spots elsewhere on your body for no apparent reason.
  • You CAN get a rash from handling tools, equipment, and clothing that the plant has come in contact with. Which means if your spouse or kids have the plants oils on their clothing and you are the one stuck doing laundry you can (and probably WILL) Get a rash from the plant.
  • Dogs and Cats can get the rash and transfer it to their humans by transferring the oils of the plant.

**UPDATE** OUR CURE!

What WORKS Immediately

The following items Cured the cow-itch rash in just under 3 days:

It was bad enough when I went through nearly a full month of HELL trying everything I could think of under the sun, but by the time my poor husband had to suffer through this malady, I’d had enough!

I grabbed several old herb books and decided to put him on the following items on day 3 of his suffering:

  • Niacin (which is Vitamin B3) – 2 (500mg) capsules 2x’s a day. For the sake of clarity- I did NOT give him a multi-vitamin- I gave him B3 ONLY-
  • Vitamin E Oil 2 capsules (400 IU) Swallowed daily, PLUS Puncture several capsules and squeeze the oil directly onto the rash, rub it in gently to cover, once in the morning and again before bed.

In addition to the above, he took Benedryl several times throughout the week for the itching and also applied Milk of magnesia (externally!) sometimes during the day to curb itching.

Here is his arm on Day 6 (scroll back up to see his arm on day 2):

cow-itch-when-pretty-becomes-painful

Disclaimer

Now for the disclaimer, I am not a Doctor! Taking Niacin while on certain medications is contraindicated, in other words, if you take meds for something- ask your doctor!! I am not providing this as medical information – I am simply telling you what I PERSONALLY have tried and what worked for ME and for my family.

If you’ve experienced this horrendous affliction and tried various remedies, feel free to share your experiences in the comments below!

THIS POST MAY CONTAIN AFFILIATE LINKS. FULL DISCLOSURE HERE
About Liss 4006 Articles
Melissa Burnell, known to her friends and fans as "Liss," grew up in Southern Maine, now residing in sunny South Carolina. As a busy Wife, Mother of two sons, an avid photographer, and self-employed entrepreneur, Liss understands the value of both time and money.

27 Comments

  1. i have a jasmine on my back fence that has been there for years. i do not break out from it, i do however have a vine near it called a sumac that i am sooooo alergic to. when i get in it i can only get over it by going to the doctor.

    the rash looks identicle to yours and yes it is the most itchy thing i have ever had. maybe it is not the jasmine that got you.

    • Maybe it is not the Jasmine that got you.

      Alas, if only, as I mentioned, my husband picked the flower and I made the mistake of rubbing it on my cheek . . .

      I’ve had experience with poison sumac as well, when we lived in Maine, it is nasty stuff; but I can honestly say that Cow Itch tops the cake in horrible afflictions!

    • I have a Jasmine on my back fence that has been there for years. I do not break out from it, I do however have a vine near it called a sumac that I am sooooo alergic to. When I get in it I can only get over it by going to the doctor.

      The rash looks identicle to yours and yes it is the most itchy thing I have ever had. Maybe it is not the Jasmine that got you.

      sumac and poison ivy are my enemy!!! years ago a friend told me about using sweet potatoes. i was desperate for relief and willing to try anything.

      cook a sweet potato, boil it, microwave or bake it. make a mash and apply to affected areas doing so as hot as you can tolerate the it and i mean hot. let it cool, scrape the potato off into a bowl.

      you can save the used potato. just cover and refrigerate. microwave to heat and repeat and use as often as you want.

      i’ve done it sometimes about every 30 mins initially. Within 24 hrs the itch starts to go away and it starts drying up.
      I have google this remedy and have yet to find anyone blog about it. But I am telling you this works on Sumac and Poison Ivy.

      • Sumac and poison ivy are my enemy!!! Years ago a friend told me about using sweet potatoes. I was desperate for relief and willing to try anything. Cook a sweet potato, boil it, microwave or bake it. Make a mash and apply to affected areas doing so as hot as you can tolerate the it and I mean HOT. Let it cool, scrape the potato off into a bowl. You can save the used potato. Just cover and refrigerate. Microwave to heat and repeat and use as often as you want. I’ve done it sometimes about every 30 mins initially. Within 24 hrs the itch starts to go away and it starts drying up.
        I have google this remedy and have yet to find anyone blog about it. But I am telling you this works on Sumac and Poison Ivy.

        Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of vitamin A (in the form of beta-carotene). They are also a very good source of vitamin C, manganese, copper, pantothenic acid and vitamin B6. Additionally, they are a good source of potassium, dietary fiber, niacin, vitamin B1, vitamin B2 and phosphorus.

        I would assume that the High levels of Niacin (B3) are what make this remedy so potent and valuable. It took us years to figure out that a bit of niacin would alleviate symptoms immediately and cure the rash itself in a very short period of time. Now we begin taking it immediately upon exposure.

        The sweet potato is a great idea to keep in mind, oftentimes we have those in the pantry already when we don’t have niacin pills on hand. Thanks for sharing!

  2. i got a much more severe exposure to it in jamaica. i broke through the vine with no shirt on. after the initial pain, i developed thousands of tiny blisters that the next day turned into a huge 10 inch blister.

  3. hey there,

    thanks to your amazing article, i was able to figure out what this bizarre rash is. i’ve tried every otc treatment and nothing works, so i’m wanting to try yours. for the doses, did you do 2 500mg tablets (total 1000mg) twice a day for a total of 2000mg, or 500mg twice a day for a total of 1000mg?

    Same question for the Vitamin E. Was each capsule 400 IU or 400 IU total? Anyhow thank you for the article, I pray that it helps.

    I’d be happy to mail you back in a few days with my progress if you’re interested.

    • Hey there,

      Thanks to your amazing article, I was able to figure out what this bizarre rash is. I’ve tried every OTC treatment and nothing works, so I’m wanting to try yours. For the doses, did you do 2 500mg tablets (total 1000mg) twice a day for a total of 2000mg, or 500mg twice a day for a total of 1000mg? Same question for the Vitamin E. Was each capsule 400 IU or 400 IU total? Anyhow thank you for the article, I pray that it helps. I’d be happy to mail you back in a few days with my progress if you’re interested.

      Yes, as the article indicates (2) 500mg (each) capsules Twice a day. and Yes (2) 400mg (each) capsules.

  4. i got into stinging nettles once, the worst burn/itch i’ve personally experienced, since i am not allergic to sumac, poison ivy or poison oak.

    i made a paste of baking soda and water out of instinct and it stopped itching and burning immediately. the redness and swelling went away as well.

    i’d give this a try on any rash.

  5. hello! i did some weeding 3 months ago and got into cow itch. Bleach has worked before, but this time took the skin clean off on my finger and was spreading.

    Went to the doctor they didn’t know what I was talking about and gave me antibiotics and a z pack. Follow- up with wound care. Told him my problem and again found a doctor who knew nothing of Cow Itch and told me to put cream on it and I would be fine.

    I have tried alcohol, does nothing, creams seem to feed it. Epsom salt and water 3 times a day seems to help dry it, but be ready for the bumps to hit you all at once. It only seems to itch when the bumps get all full and swollen.

    Another interesting fact with me, the area is on my finger and I can’t keep my fingers apart all the time so the stuff gets on my other fingers. No breakout on them. Also, it seems to spread under the skin from the last breakout, like a chain.

    It is on it’s way to my palm if I don’t find some what of killing it. Please help! Any advice is good advice at this point.:smiley-signs083:

  6. I did some trumpet vine removal for my uncle last week and I’ve been itching since. I thought it would go away on its own, but it seems to be only getting worse. I’ve been searching the Internet for information for hours and I want to thank you because this is the only helpful information I have found about ridding this problem.

    I’ve been soaking in Epsom salts and washing my bedding everyday. Now I can stop wasting some much water. Thank you!!!

  7. Bless you, I have been suffering a year. I unfortunately was just told what it is/was. I am out the door to store now.

    And carried in blood stream! !! Just lovely

  8. I know now that this is what has been placed in my home and around my environment. Thank you so much for your help.

  9. I have had this rash before and could never figure out what was causing it. The other day I was breaking off long shoots from a trumpet vine and noticed some liquid that squirted out onto my arm. I didn’t think much about it.

    I just had slight itching at the time. Several days later, it looks like this rash and is growing. I believe it was the trumpet vine that did this to me.

    I work in the yard a lot and I get this rash just about every summer on my face but never really knew what it was. From the description and pictures given, I believe it is. I’ve spent a ton of money for several doctors to be totally stumped and give me antibiotics and miscellaneous expensive creams which did not work!

    i’m going to try these remedies. by accident 2 years ago, I had it on my face and was just so tired of trying to clear it up. I looked awful.

    It was all over my chin and spreading. Sad and depressed, I went outside and laid on a lounge chair with my face up to the sun for about 10 or 15 minutes. That night, the rash was about 80% improved.

    Did the same thing the following day and the rash was virtually gone! I paid $100s of dollars and the sun healed it in less than 30 minutes. Going to try this as soon as the storms pass but will try your remedies for today.

    Don’t know if this will work for anyone else, but if your desperate it’s worth a try. I am so happy to finally know what is causing this!

  10. Just thought I’d update on my rash. The rain finally left and the sun came out intermittenly. Since my rash was so bad, I decided to try the sun remedy again.

    I was only able to sit out for about 5 minutes the first time due to so much cloud cover. However, with only that amount of time the rash began to heal. I did the same thing the next day for a little longer.

    The rash continued to heal and the inflamed raised symptoms are now gone. One more brief session in the sun ought to clear it up as it has improved so much. If the sun had been full force like today, I feel certain the rash would have been cured in two sessions of about 10 minutes each.

    I’m sure this could vary with each individual, but I urge anyone with this rash to give it a try. It may not work on everyone, but it is truly amazing how fast and effective it has been on me, and it’s free. If it doesn’t work, at least you will have gotten a your daily dose of vitamin D!

    • Just thought I’d update on my rash. The rain finally left and the sun came out intermittenly. Since my rash was so bad, I decided to try the sun remedy again.

      I was only able to sit out for about 5 minutes the first time due to so much cloud cover. However, with only that amount of time the rash began to heal. I did the same thing the next day for a little longer.

      The rash continued to heal and the inflamed raised symptoms are now gone. One more brief session in the sun ought to clear it up as it has improved so much. If the sun had been full force like today, I feel certain the rash would have been cured in two sessions of about 10 minutes each.

      I’m sure this could vary with each individual, but I urge anyone with this rash to give it a try. It may not work on everyone, but it is truly amazing how fast and effective it has been on me, and it’s free. If it doesn’t work, at least you will have gotten a your daily dose of vitamin D!

      !!!!go get some green black walnuts squish the outside hull till juices come out relief comes almost instantly next day it will be gone or almost gone!!!!

  11. I was exposed 3 days ago. Horrible reaction! Ran to the store and bought Lanacaine spray and Calamine lotion.

    I’m not sure what happened but, I was using the Calamine lotion without knowing I hadn’t shaken the bottle:) Pure top lotion. Almost immediate relief with the Lanacaine spray! Got rid of the blisters pretty quuckly.

    These are pictutes 24 hours after exposure, and 2days later.

  12. I also have had multiple recurring rashes after working in the garden that has this plant and after spending time with the man who lives there. He had a dog who played outside and would sleep in his bed and I repeatedly assumed it was from the chemicals from his work in construction and on vehicles that were causing these symptoms. I couldn’t get him to believe it wasn’t all in my head, because it didn’t affect anyone else but me. While I do believe that those factors were causing some reactions.

    I believe now that this individual vine has an extremely short life expectancy now.
    I know I had decided to try a DIY home scrub of 1:1 coconut oil and baking soda for another reason entirely. Now this current and hopefully one of the last skin sensitivity battles Im waging war with has shown the scrub effective for me. I simply melt oil gently, mix baking soda and spread everywhere externally except eye area.

    Leave on for 15 min. Rinse with hottish water to get oil to rinse off as well as I can then switch to cool as I can stand it. I Pat dry.

    And then stay undressed as long as I can until truly dry before putting comfy cotton clothes on. I don’t recommend us

  13. I tried most of what you started with and at first thought it was all different kinds of weeds since the yard I am cleaning up is full of all kinds…then it dawned on me I get whacked in the face with this trumpet vine every time I mow and I got it all in my face as I was cutting it back after I was tired of trying to mow past it… did a search and found this and many other links telling me about how bad it can be. I have this on my face and neck.

    Fun times!

  14. One day cure Green Black walnuts .the outside hull to be more precise squish hull take juice n pulp rub all over affected area instant relief rub on as much as you like you will have a discoloration in skin tone due to black pigments in juice but goes away within a few days but cow itch will be gone next day . disclaimer if you are allergic to nuts do not try this remedy before consulting your docter.

  15. I’m wondering if anyone knows exactly how this is spread. Can you spread this to someone if they touch your skin and does it spread by scratching and spreading the “oils”. I’m suffering severely and would appreciate and input!

    • It’s spread through the oils of the plant. Any direct contact with the oil can cause a dermatological reaction (aka rash!) I got it on my arms by scooping up an armload of laundry and carrying it to the laundry room. My husband had weed-wacked the backyard and the oils were on his clothing.

      It can spread if a pet traipses through it and the oils transfer to their fur and you pet them. It can spread

      Once you get any of the oils into your skin (poison ivy, oak, sumac, etc) they can spread through your bloodstream systemically.

  16. Thank you for sharing because I could not find anything else on how to treat this. I was getting so frustrated trying everything I usually use for poison ivy only to find it was spreading to other parts of my body and getting worse every day.

    The mashed sweet potato has been great at alleviating the itchiness. I have been doing that since last night and have noticed a reduction in redness and everything stopped oozing.

    A WORD OF CAUTION: If you decide to try the niacin pills, read the recommended dosage on the bottle. I did not even bother to look at the bottle, I just saw she had her husband take 1000mg twice a day and went for it. BAD MOVE! (And totally my own fault). I’m currently laying on my couch in my underwear because my entire body feels like it’s both on fire and being stabbed by a thousand little needles. I’m sweating and shivering…its a very strange feeling! I hope the vitamin supplements will work, but I’ll definitely be taking the recommended dosage on the bottle (300mg), not 900mg! 😄

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