Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac Treatment

  • Treatment

    If you have poison ivy, oak, or sumac on your face or over a large portion your body, you should see a doctor. You should also get medical help if itching is extreme, or you notice signs of infection (pain, redness, tenderness around the site). If you get a rash in a delicate area such as your face or groin, consider getting medical help to reduce swelling and avoid damage and scarring. If you have an extensive rash, do not attempt to treat it yourself. If you experience pain, redness, and tenderness around the rash, see your doctor, as you may have an infection.

    A tepid bath or cool shower can relieve mild itching. Adding a colloidal oatmeal product or a baking soda solution to your bath water can ease itching. Baking soda dries out blisters. A cold milk compress may help dry the rash and soothe the itch as well. Soak gauze in milk and apply it to the affected area for 10 minutes.

    Lotions containing calamine, zinc acetate, and alcohol can cool skin and dry blisters. These are soothing and can help your rash heal faster.

    Over-the-counter medications help to reduce swelling and lessen itching. Applying a hydrocortisone (1%) cream or spray a few times daily may quell inflammation. Topical pain relievers such as menthol, benzocaine, and pramoxine can numb an itchy rash. These need to be applied frequently to be effective. Oral antihistamines such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) are particularly helpful for nighttime itching when the drowsy side effect can help you get a good night’s sleep.

    Your doctor is the best source of information on the drug treatment choices available to you.

    If you work outside and cannot avoid exposure to poisonous plants, you may want to consider immunotherapy. Some people can be desensitized to urushiol with prescription pills that contain small amounts of active extract from the plant. However, this procedure takes several months, is only effective in a small number of people, and may produce side effects such as an itchy rash around the anus. Immunotherapy is therefore generally not only recommended for people who live and work in areas where they are constantly coming into contact with poisonous plants.

    Jewelweed is an unproven folk remedy for poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac, and other types of skin irritation. Jewelweed (also called spotted touch-me-nots) is used in herbal medicine for many kinds of skin disorders. The plant grows in the woods — often in the vicinity of poison ivy — in damp shady areas. Proponents recommended rubbing the juice of this plant on skin that may have been exposed to a poisonous plant. There is, however, no reliable research to support this practice. Always talk with your doctor before trying an alternative remedy.

    The rash usually clears up after a few weeks. Severe cases can result in scarring.

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