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Poison Ivy Treatments 101

Poison Ivy Treatments 101

Nearly 75% of the U.S population will break out into a rash when exposed to poison ivy. If left untreated, the rash can be unbearably itchy. While your primary care physician may want to prescribe a corticosteroid to address the symptoms, there are much safer treatments you may begin at home that don’t come with a slew of side effects.

To start, learn to recognize the common rash causing plants. The old-adage, “leaves of three, let them be,” is helpful to identifying poison ivy and poison oak, however, poison sumac grows with seven to 13 leaves on a stem. If concerned, consider speaking with your local gardening shop or using online resources such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service, or the National Audubon Society Native Plants Database to know what these plants look like. Here, the poison ivy plant typically has small hairs on the leaves and grows on rope-like vines up trees but, may also be on the ground. They have three shiny, green leaves that turn red in the fall. Despite the change in color in the fall, the leaves still contain the oil that causes the rash, FYI.

For most, a skin rash from the oils of poison ivy is how it starts. This oil is in the flowers, stem, leaves and roots. It takes very little of the oil to cause the reaction and the oil remains active in the plant long after the plant has died. Exposure to an amount less than a grain of salt may cause a significant reaction if you are highly allergic. The rash typically begins in the first 12 to 72 hours after exposure to the plant, or any piece of clothing, lawn equipment or pet on which the oil has been deposited. While poison ivy is not truly contagious, if you touch someone who has the oil on their skin, it transfers to your skin too.

Frequently, within a couple of hours of contact, symptoms may appear on the area of skin exposed to the oil, and any other areas to which the oil transferred. Symptoms are redness, itching, swelling, blisters, etc. Strive to exercise self-control from scratching the rash. The bacteria under your nails can infect the broken skin caused by the blisters which leads to another set of problems. Keep the area clean with soap and water to reduce the potential for infection. In most cases, you can treat your poison ivy at home, unless you know you have inhaled in the plant’s oil that had been burned. If that’s the case, see your doctor as this situation can be very serious.

Once exposed and the poison ivy rash has started, consider using natural products to help reduce the swelling, itching and pain without resorting to over-the-counter medications. Try a combination of the following at home remedies to address each of the different symptoms to help heal faster, relieve pain and reduce the itching.

1. Remove the oil by using alcohol wipes. This removes the oil from your skin if you don’t have immediate access to soap, water and a washcloth. Wipe every area that may have contacted the plant. Another option to remove the oil is the juice from a fresh lemon.

2. For the itching and inflammation, cold compresses may help soothe the skin and reduce discomfort. Also, baking soda in a lukewarm bath is recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology to soothe the skin and reduce inflammation.

3. The rash is very itchy, refrain from scratching as much as possible as mentioned above. The bacteria under your nails may trigger a skin infection. If the blisters from the rash do break open, leave them alone and cover them to prevent infection and sharing.

4. Reduce the reaction by using a paste, made from bentonite clay and water. Cover the area where you first notice the rash. This may reduce the reaction your skin experiences, and therefore your symptoms. Bentonite clay is a natural clay that may be purchased online or at your local health food store.

5. To speed up the healing, soak a paper bag in chilled apple cider vinegar and lay it across the rash. This will also help to reduce the itch as the vinegar helps to speed healing of the rash.

6. To cool the burning sensation over the rash area, use the gel from an aloe vera plant. This remedy is my favorite. This may help cool the burn from the rash in much the same way it helps sooth. It’s also good to know, that if left untreated, poison ivy will self-resolve spontaneously within two to three weeks should you wish to ride it out. At the end of the day, living life wide open while we still can, is so important. Therefore, this summer, get outside more, enjoy the sounds and wonder of nature yet be smart, be ready and disconnect.

- Dr Irma Leon Palmer Poison Ivy Treatments 101

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