17 Home Remedies for Poison Ivy


A rash from poison ivy, oak, or sumac, is an allergic reaction to the oil, or sap, from inside the plant.

Contact with poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac often goes hand-in-hand with camping and other outdoor activities. Outdoor enthusiasts by the tentful have had to cut trips short after an unfortunate encounter with one of this threesome.

The problem stems from the plant's colorless oil called urushiol. Whenever one of these plants is cut, crushed, stepped on, sat on, grabbed, rolled on, kicked, or disturbed, the oil is released. It oozes from any cut or crushed part of the leaves or stem, so just brushing a plant may not elicit a reaction. Oil content in the plants runs highest in the spring and summer, but cases are reported even in the dead of winter.

Once on the victim, the toxic oil penetrates the skin and a rash appears within 12 to 48 hours after exposure. This is a true allergic reaction to compounds in the urushiol. The rash starts as small bumps and progresses into enlarged, itchy blisters. No body part is immune to the oil, although areas most often irritated are the face, arms, hands, legs, and genitals.

Poison ivy, oak and sumac are uncomfortable plants to come into contact with, but there are ways to calm the itchy rash that they can cause. In fact, a number of simple home remedies exist. In this article, we'll discuss 17 ways to prevent getting a rash from poison ivy, oak or sumac and how to treat such a rash, using medicines and common household items, if one should occur. But first, let's take a look at what these plants are and where they are.

Poison ivy, oak, and sumac are hardy weeds that can be found throughout the United States, except in Hawaii, Alaska, and some desert areas of Nevada. Poison ivy is found east of the Rockies, poison oak grows in the West and Southwest, and poison sumac thrives east of the Mississippi River. All three produce similar reactions, and if you're allergic to one, you'll probably react to the others as well.

Cases of poison ivy, oak, and sumac affect 10 to 50 million people in the United States each year. In fact, these plants constitute the single most common cause of allergic reactions. A lucky 10 to 15 percent of Americans don't react to these plants, but another 10 to 15 percent are quite sensitive to them. The rest of us fall somewhere in between, with varying levels of sensitivity.

What muddies the waters is that a person's sensitivity can change over time, even from season to season. You could be quite sensitive to poison ivy as a child but seem immune to the weed as an adult. Or you may not have your first bad reaction to one of these poisonous plants until late in life, though sensitivity tends to decline with age.

Your level of sensitivity determines how bad a reaction you'll have. Once the oil touches the skin, it starts to penetrate in minutes. Within 12 to 48 hours, the red, itchy rash appears, followed by blisters that may weep and later get crusty. The area usually heals in about ten days. Among the very sensitive population, affected areas of skin will quickly swell up, the rash can be severe and painful, and the reaction may take up to three weeks to clear if left untreated. If you are highly sensitive to these plants, see a doctor as soon as you come in contact with one.

Even for people who are only mildly sensitive, a rash from poison ivy, oak, or sumac is no fun. The itching can drive you absolutely crazy. You try to ignore it, but you can't. All you want to do is scratch like a maniac. It's almost enough to make you want to give up going outside ever again.

Fortunately, you don't have to. You simply need to know how to take steps to avoid these foes and what to do to get relief if your preventive steps fail. There are a number of home remedies that can help ease the discomfort of plant-induced itching. See the next section for some tips to prevent the problem in the first place.

For more information about allergies and skin ailments and how to treat them, try the following links:

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Home Remedy Treatments for Poison Ivy

Pets can sometimes give you a rash from poison ivy, oak, or sumac.

The best way to treat poison ivy, oak, and sumac? Avoid it like the plague! Here are some home remedies on how to do just that.

Know the plant so you can avoid it. Find out what the plant looks like in the area you live or plan to visit, because appearance will vary, even within a state. For instance, poison oak that grows in Northern California doesn't look like poison oak native to Southern California. Typically, poison ivy is a vine or a low shrub with grayish white berries and smooth, pointed leaves that are usually clustered in groups of three. The reddish leaves turn green in the summer and redden again by autumn. Poison oak is a shrub or small tree with greenish white berries and oak-like leaves that, again, usually appear in groups of three. Poison sumac is a woody shrub found in swampy, boggy areas that has smooth-edged leaves and cream-colored berries. The leaves of poison sumac retain their reddish color and aren't grouped in threes.

Spotting the plants isn't always easy. Poison ivy can mimic other plants, such as Virginia creeper, and can twine itself around English ivy. Even doctors who warn their patients to avoid these plants can't always identify them. You'll decrease your chance of being exposed to one of these plants, however, if you become familiar with their typical appearance.

Here are some tips:

  • Poison ivy. Poison ivy plants have serrated, pointed leaves that appear in groups of three leaflets. The leaves are green in summer but are reddish in spring and fall. While their appearance can vary, poison ivy plants are found everywhere in the United States. In the East, Midwest, and South, it grows as a climbing vine. In the West and northern states, poison ivy resembles a shrub. Poison ivy rarely appears above 5,000 feet.
  • Poison oak. Like poison ivy, poison oak has leaves of three and the shrub's size differs depending on location. In the Southeast it appears as a small shrub, while in the West, poison oak appears as a large shrub. It has greenish-white berries and oak-like leaves.
  • Poison sumac. The leafy one of this threesome is poison sumac, a small shrub with two rows of 7 to 13 leaflets. Sumac prefers swampy bogs of northern states and swamps in southern states. Its leaves are smooth-edged and remain red; the plant has cream-colored berries. Unlike poison ivy and oak, poison sumac does not produce leaves in groups of three.

Don't Touch! Touching the oil after initial contact is what spreads the rash -- something easily done. For example, say you unknowingly walk over poison ivy and the oily residue sticks like glue to your hiking boot. Later, you remove the boot, unwittingly touching the residue in the process. Since few people wash their hands after removing boots, the oil easily spreads from the hands, to the face, and even to the genital area should you make the unfortunate decision to use the bathroom. The damage is done by the time the rash breaks out. Touching the rash once it appears does not spread the oil -- or the rash.

Cover up. Long pants, long-sleeved shirts, boots, and gloves provide a barrier between you and th plant's oil. This is especially important if you're sensitive and you know you're going to be in an area that might contain poison ivy.

Don't let your pets romp in wooded areas. If you get a rash from poison ivy but can't remember being near the plant, you may have your pet to thank. If your dog or cat strolls through a patch of poison ivy, the oils may cling to the animal's fur. Pat or pick up the pet, and the oils rub off on you. The same is true of anything that comes in contact with oil from poisonous plants, including gardening tools, bicycle tires, and golf balls. Once there, the oil can remain active for a long time, so you can get poison ivy again and again without touching the plant itself if you don't use care when handling these outdoor items and rinse them off after each use.

Rinse your clothes outside. If you think you've had a close encounter with poison ivy, the oil may be all over your clothes. If you walk inside your home without rinsing your clothes, you may transfer the oil to rugs or furniture. Water deactivates the oil, so once your clothes are soaked, they're safe. It's also a good idea to rinse off camping, hunting, and fishing gear so you don't start off your next vacation with a case of poison ivy. Since poison plant oils don't just disappear, it's crucial to wash anything that has had contact with the victim or the oil, including clothing, boots, pets, other people, sleeping bags, fishing poles, walking sticks, etc. Use gloves when cleaning pets, people, and objects that may have had contact with the oil. Don't forget your shoes, which can pick up oils from twigs or vines. At night, if you take your shoes off by grabbing the sole or the heel, you may grab onto more than you bargained for and end up with a nasty case of poison ivy. 

Head for water fast. This should be your first step if you suspect you've gotten into poison ivy. Don't hesitate -- the sooner you're soaked, the better. Whether it comes from a stream, lake, garden hose, or faucet, if you can get to water within five to ten minutes after contact with the plant, you may be able to wash off the oil before all of it sinks in.

Carry rubbing alcohol with you. The oil from poison ivy isn't absorbed into the skin all at once; it sinks in fairly gradually. If you move quickly enough, you may be able to use rubbing alcohol to extract some oil from the skin. If you think you've been exposed to the weed and you're heading back inside for the day, wash down the exposed areas with rubbing alcohol and then rinse well with water. Don't use a cloth wipe, which may simply pick up the oil and transfer it somewhere else. And don't use the alcohol near your eyes.

Try a protectant. Consider using a product called IvyBlock, which is a protectant that helps diminish contact with urushiol. This can be applied before heading out into potential poison-plant territory.

If it's too late and you've already had a brush with poison ivy, oak, or sumac, don't worry. There are some simple and effective ways to treat the negative effects of poison ivy, oak and sumac with items found around the house. See the next page for some suggested home remedies.

For more information about allergies and skin ailments and how to treat them, try the following links:

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

More Home Remedy Treatments for Poison Ivy

©2007 Publications International, Ltd. Cold coffee is a home remedy that can help ease the discomfort of poison ivy.

So, you did your best to avoid the itch, but it still got you? Never fear -- here are some simple home remedies to treat the rash if it does occur. Many include common items you can find in your kitchen. (While these remedies often refer to poison ivy, the steps are generally appropriate for poison oak and poison sumac as well.)

Home Remedies from the Kitchen

for Poison Ivy, Oak and Sumac

Cool off. If the itch has already begun, a cool bath or shower may help ease the itch. Placing ice-cold compresses on the rash for a few minutes every hour may also provide relief.

Baking soda. Concoct a paste of baking soda and water, and spread it on the affected area. Freshen the application every two hours for a total of 3 applications each day. Before going to bed, pour a cup of baking soda into a lukewarm bath and take a soak.

Coffee. If you have any leftover (cold) coffee in your cup, pouring it on a poison ivy rash may be a good way to get rid of the coffee and the rash. Appalachian folk medicine followers believe in washing the affected area with a cup of cold black coffee. Coffee beans contain chlorogenic acid, an anti-inflammatory. This coffee cure hasn't been proved, as there haven't been any studies done on it.

Vinegar. Be it from plant, insect, or allergic reaction, itches of all sorts are tamed by a simple vinegar rinse. First, wash the affected area with soap and lukewarm water, then rinse. Apply vinegar with a cotton ball, rub gently, and rinse.

Soap and water. Waste no time in getting the poisonous plant victim in contact with water -- urushiol is water soluble so use lots and lots of water when you rinse. Rinse before using soap; this will reduce the risk of spreading the oil. And hurry! You have only 10 minutes or so before the oil will start to penetrate your skin. Air-dry the skin. Any towels used for cleaning should be washed immediately in hot water and detergent -- the oil can linger on towels to "get you" again.

Aloe vera. According to the folk medicine taught by Seventh Day Adventists, aloe vera sap helps treat poison ivy rash through its anti-inflammatory constituents. Break off a leaf and apply the sap to the affected area. Allow to dry and gently wash off. Reapply every two hours.

Soak in oats. Bathing in lukewarm water mixed with oatmeal or baking soda may help dry oozing blisters and soothe irritated skin.

Looking for more relief? Even more common home remedies, along with information about which poison ivy myths are true and which are false, can be found in the next section.

For more information about allergies and skin ailments and how to treat them, try the following links:

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider. The brand name products mentioned in this publication are trademarks or service marks of their respective companies. The mention of any product in this publication does not constitute an endorsement by the respective proprietors of Publications International, Ltd. or HowStuffWorks.com, nor does it constitute an endorsement by any of these companies that their products should be used in the manner described in this publication

Even More Home Remedy Treatments for Poison Ivy

Still itching? Some other common home remedies can help battle the poison ivy, oak or sumac discomfort.  In addition to items found in your kitchen, some common medicine cabinet items can offer relief.

 

Remedies from the Medicine Cabinet

Smooth on some calamine lotion. Your mother probably painted your skin pink with this goop if you had a brush with poison ivy as a kid. Smart thinking, Mom: Calamine lotion can be mildly soothing and help dry the rash. Apply it in a thin layer, however, so that the pores in your skin are not sealed.

Apply Burow's solution. This lesser-known product (sold without a prescription) can soothe and relieve mild rashes when put on compress-style. It's often sold under the name Domeboro, in a tablet or powder form that you mix with water (according to package directions). Ask your pharmacist if you're having trouble locating it.

Try hydrocortisone creams. Sold without a prescription, these creams may offer some relief for mild rashes. However, for more serious cases, hydrocortisone creams are not strong enough to help. If you have a rash that is severe enough to take you to the doctor, he or she may prescribe more potent steroids.

Getting a rash from poison ivy, oak, or sumac can be a huge discomfort, causing a rash and significant itching. Luckily, there are home remedies to calm both effects, and by using one or more of a number of natural treatment options -- some using common kitchen items -- those infected with poison ivy, oak or sumac can find relief.

For more information about allergies and skin ailments and how to treat them, try the following links:

David J. Hufford, Ph.D., is university professor and chair of the Medical Humanities Department at Pennsylvania State University's College of Medicine. He also is a professor in the departments of Neural and Behavioral Sciences and Family and Community Medicine. Dr. Hufford serves on the editorial boards of several journals, including Alternative Therapies in Health & Medicine and Explore.

Publications International, Ltd.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.