Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac Information Center

Care & Control of the Itch

Signs of an Emergency
About 15 percent of the 120 million Americans who are allergic to poison oak, poison ivy, and poison sumac are so highly sensitive that they break out in a rash and begin to swell in 4 to 12 hours instead of the normal 24 to 48. Their eyes may swell shut and blisters may erupt on their skin. This is one of the few true emergencies in dermatolgy says William L. Epstein, MD. Get to a hosipital as soon as possible. A shot of corticosteroids will bring the swelling down.

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Counter Irritants

Substances like menthol and phenol confuse the nerve endings in the skin and give a cooling sensation but they can sting and sometimes are not sufficient to give you the relief you need. Menthol and phenol are available in anti-itch creams.
-- Robert Rietschel, M.D. chairman of the Department of Dermatology at Ochsner Clinic in New Orleans
Editor note: I have also been told that if you cover the rash with a cotton cloth soaked in cool water and let a fan blow over it... the resulting cooling/evaporating effect is similar to calamine without the residue to soak up the oozing.

I have poison ivy all over my forearms which I think is the worst place you can have it. I have tried Caladryl, Aveeno, Benadryl, and Ivarest. None of them really work at all, except the Ivarest seems to stop the itch for small amounts of time. I have also had a couple of steaming showers, but I haven't soaked long enough to get the hours of relief others seem to get. One thing I can say is that when my arms itch instead of scratching I have been shaking them. My fiance says that it confuses the nerves for a couple of seconds or something. I don't know, but even though it only works for very small periods of time, it is better than scratching. I have taken notes from your website, and I'll probably try as many of the suggestions I've found here as I can. I've only had this for a week, and I can see that I'm probably in for another two weeks of itching. Another thing, I went to the doctor yesterday and they wouldn't give me Prednisone. She said they don't ! like to prescribe it unless it gets close to my mouth (because I'm an asthmatic I guess). I'm almost hoping it shows up there!
-- Jamie G. (j_methegreat@NOSPAMhotmail.com) submitted 5/Jun/2001

I don't know if I am stating the obvious but calomine lotion works wonders for me. The rash goes away overnight in most cases. I believe that calomine is the general name and not a registered trademark, though I could be mistaken. Apparently each pharmaceutical seems to have its own brand name for the product but they all contain the same ingredients and have a viscous pinkish liquid which is only comparable in appearance to Pepto-bismol. Hope this helps anyone. Just let it dry before you get into bed or you'll stain the sheets : )
--"Jamie Pocas" (j.pocas@NOSPAMverizon.net) submitted 27/Jul/2001

Vicks VapoRub will replace the itching with a cool burn for fast temporary relief. After the burn subsides, wipe off the vaporub.
--"Lisa Waterfall" (lwaterfa@NOSPAMraex.com) submitted 27/Nov/2001

First of all thank you for all your tips. Just the other day I was in the woods picking up sticks and knew that where I was walking was covered with poison ivy, but I figured that if as soon as I got home I just got a wash-rag and washed off with it I would be fine. That is not the answer believe me. By the next morning I was over taken by the power of poison ivy. I have tried the "warm water method" before and it does work. Also vicks works wonders sounds weird but it dried it up and stopped the itch. Thank you- Jawni
--"Jawni L." (jawni_88@NOSPAMhotmail.com) submitted 14/Jul/2003

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How to Care and Control the Itch

You asked for how people took care of their poison ivy rash. Here's how I took care of the last two cases. Both times I had limited rashes on my forearms, but they did do the whole nine yards of heavy swelling and redness, looked really ugly. Because I have experience with controlling itching and allergies I tackled it the same way.

For the arms I went out and bought 3 different types of cortisone anti-itch creams - favoring benedryl 2%, and other hydrocortisone creams that were thick. You want creams that stay on and keep the skin cool. I then bought some very wide gauze and loosely wrapped the creamed arms. I put a touch of medical tape at the top of the forearm and at the bottom to help keep it in place. I unwrapped and re-creamed as necessary. To keep the itch at a low level I also took the OTC antihistamine benedryl (2 caps) about every 4 - 6 hours. This keeps the overall itch to a level that is bearable. If I felt I had to scratch I lightly rubbed over the gauze, this way I did no real damage to the healing skin and allowed myself the satisfaction of sort of scratching. I have found that at least 1/3 of an itch is knowing that you should not scratch. With these general procedures I healed in about 18 days after contracting the poison ivy.

The last time I had a case I was going out of town and my husband urged me to get a course of medication from the doctor that helps clear up poison ivy. I can't think of the name of it. It is a 6 day course of pills. My husband had used this with success. I on the other hand had a mild allergic reaction to it , tiny little itchy bumps all over my torso. So buyer beware. It works well for some- my husband and not for others - me.
-- Mrs. John T. Lindsay (ohkami@NOSPAMhtonline.com) submitted Feb/03/2000

I'm 32 years old and I have had poison ivy as long as I can remember. I normally don't have a severe reaction, except on my hands between my fingers. Maybe this is because the skin is thinner there, but I usually get large blisters (1/4"-1/2") that weep and even doing normal activities becomes difficult. As I've said, I have dealt with this all my life so I can take the itch, but the blisters are very bothersome (not to mention kind of nasty). This last time I visited your website and read through the remedy section. I then went to my local pharmacy and bought a tube of Extra Strength Benadryl Cream containing 2% Diphenhydromine Hydrochloride (most others contain 1%). To say this worked would be an understatement, I noticed a total drying of the ooze and a decrease in blister size after only 12 hours of recommended use. Thank you so much for your website and keep up the good work. Dan

--Daniel Galgay (DGalgay@NOSPAMVITECH.com) submitted 13/Jul/2001

I just found your website on July 1st - today is July 2nd Some of the stories I read yesterday were actually gruesome where people were scrubbing open the blisters and cleaning them with rubbing alcohol....!! My son is only 7 years old, so that was definitely not an option. He has had his poison ivy rash for almost a week and nothing was working (alcohol and Caladryl lotion) and it was actually still spreading!! But..... I did read about the Aveeno bath and the j&j Anti Itch Gel and Benedryl on this site..... All sounded very promising. I took a trip to WalMart on my way home from work yesterday evening and picked up all three (got the children's Benedryl, of course). As soon as we got home, he sat in the tub with the Aveeno bath for almost 1/2 an hour. I did still use the rubbing alcohol - dabbed it on the spots with cotton balls. Then I applied the Anti Itch Gel and gave him 2 of the Benedryl before he went to bed....!!!!! Talk about an (almost) overnight cure!!! He woke up this morning and I immediately started inspecting his little body and it is like night and day!!!! First of all, he finally slept thru the night! And the blisters look 100% better than they did just yesterday! The first thing we are doing again tonite is that bath and then a repeat of everything else!!! Thank you!!!
--"Susan" (susan.powell@NOSPAMmorganstanley.com) submitted 2/Jul/2003

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Not for the meek

Found some other great threads on the web. Check out these two links on the rural living forum at TractorByNet. They also discuss the poison ivy pill, shot, and extract others have mentioned. See poison ivy and poison ivy part II.
-- Editor submitted 11/Jul/2002

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Hair Dryer

When you get to that point where you have the strongest desire to itch get a hair dryer. Point the dryer on high at the desired spot and hold there. Hold the dryer on that one spot as long as you can. You will feel a sharp pain--don't exceed a minute. Repeat 3-4 times. The itching goes away and the rash dries out at the same time. Rob Hartman Granville,OH
--Rob Hartman (robbyhartman@NOSPAMyahoo.com) submitted 27/Jul/2001

Hi - The hair dryer is the hands-down best method for getting rid of the itch. I have been using it every morning when I wake up and every evening before going to sleep. It provides immense relief from the itching afterwards and it feels so good on the rash.
--"Kim" (kimarie_pike@NOSPAMhotmail.com) submitted 1/Apr/2002

I tryed the hair dryer method and I think it is the best and only method that anyone that has poison ivy should try. After just first initial blast of hot air it mad my itch stop. I would recommend this to anyone who just can't take the itch any longer.
--"Amy" (bmgilu@NOSPAMyahoo.com) submitted 1/May/2003

I am so glad I found this web site. *Thank you* for the blow dryer idea! It was a lifesaver. I used the blow dryer method, and got complete relief from the itch. Benadryl also worked, and I took it consistently which kept the inflammation and itch down a bit. I also used the air to dry out the blisters that were oozing. I noticed that alcohol also helped dry it out. It appeared on my face first, and I thought I was just getting acne. I used Clearisil on my face, and it helped dry the blisters up.
--"Diane" (dserra@NOSPAMrochester.rr.com) submitted 4/Jul/2003

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Smack it!

If you have poison anything and can't stand it before you scrach the s@#t out of it,try smacking it,or spank it.But you must always wash your hands!!!! I'll say it again wash your hands.
--Sllkomp@NOSPAMaol.com submitted 11/Aug/2001
Editor: Do you smack it first or spank it . Guess this is what we would call a counter irritant.

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Nail Polish

I suffered with poison ivy as a kid real bad but did grow a good deal oftolerance for it as I got older. Recently I have a case of it from mulching my yard (warning folks: it's not just wood in that mulch! Wear gloves and longs sleeves!). One treatment I have not seen on the list that has been used in my family for decades is (drum roll) clear nail polish. Sounds bizarre I know, but for some reason the itching stops almost immediately and as long as the nail polish remains uncracked, works like a charm. My theory is that the rash needs air to itch, and the nail polish blocks the air. No idea if that has any scientific merit, but that's the only thing I can figure why it works. You will always notice that all the things like Caladril (spell?) work ok until they dry up and crack thus exposing the air to the rash and it itches again. Readers will notice a constant theme of some of the home remedies, which is to cover, wrap, etc. the ivy and block the air from getting to it. There are probably some chemicals in nail polish that are not great for you, but it does not seem to cause any local dermal reactions and no one has ever had a problem, but it's something to consider. It occurred to me some of the new "liquid bandages" might accomplish the same thing and would be better for you (assuming clear nailpolish is not) but I have not tried it. When the nail polish cracks and the itching comes back, I peal it all off and apply a fresh coat. Presto! itching is gone. Also seems to prevent it from spreading. After reading this page, I am going to modify my treatment and use a dilute bleach and or vinegar solution, hot water treatment when I peel it off, then apply freshcoat. That's my bizarre but highly effective home remedy. WWW.BrinkZone.com- Will BrinkIndustry consultant, author, and columnist.
--"Will" (willb01760@NOSPAMyahoo.com) submitted 27/May/2002

I have had posion ivy only twice. I only get small patches but its miserable all the same. What works for me is clear quick dry nail polish. It keeps the blisters from seeping but acting as a liquid bandage and drys it up. I clean it twice a day but using nail polish remover which also helps dry the area up.
--"keepingquiet" (no email provided) submitted 6/Apr/2003

I just got my first case of pi. This sounds nuts but I put Nail Polish on the blisters,when they were little, since I only had a few. If you polish them, once or twice, it forms a hard coat over them and they do not spread or get worse. You also don't need a bandaid then. They stayed the same for several days. I also used Zanfel right away to wash once or twice a day. Then re-polished. Gone. Probably not a good idea to put on open sores.
--"Laurie " (lorgeo2@NOSPAMaol.com) submitted 24/Jun/2003

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Rubbing Alcohol

Hey there only one to stop that unbareable itch, and that a spray bottle filled with rubbing alcohol and just mist yourself when the itching starts. To dry the rash, a mixture of 1/2 water 1/2 bleach to wash over the rash dries it up like a charm. You should dry up in 2 days. Good luck.
--"Lil" (abusadora7@NOSPAMaol.com) submitted 13/Jul/2002

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Cold

I am 24 and this is my first bout with pi. I have missed two days of work so far as the rash is over much of my neck and face. It is slowly desending to my abdomin and legs. I have found that heat make the itch worse. I am currently taking Benadryl, for the itch, but what else helps is the COLD...Sitting with the Air Conditioner on high and naked has help relive the rest of the itch. To soak all the oozing from the blisters (I have a big blister on my upper right arm) I have placed a clean Always Pantiliner on the blister and used a tension bandage to keep it in place. The pantyliner absorbs the ooze and keeps it away from the body.(This also works to remove draining liquid after surgury, it doesn't hurt to be taken off like gauze and works ten times better to help you feel dry and clean as it soaks the odor away also.) I will try other methods within the next two-three days thanks to you all for the advice.
--"Tina " (tina_marie79@NOSPAMhotmail.com) submitted 21/May/2003

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Heat

The natural way. At 52 y.o. and quite an outdoor guy, I just got my first burst of poison ivy, with blisters and itching. I am not crazy about drugs and like natural healing process. One thing I learned back in graduate school was that itch could be instantly overcome for up to 2 hours with heat (I will not get into the neuro-physiological rational behind this phenomenon). I have used that trick successfully for years on my kids, friends and myself for like mosquito bites, etc., and it did help this week with poison ivy (certainly better than 1% hydrocortisone). Here is how to do it: Any source of heat reaching at least 49oC (about 120oF) will work (that's way less than boiling water). One way is to heat a small quantity of water (1/4 cup) in a small Tupperware in the microwave (about 1min); another is to use a fresh made hot beverage cup; another is to rinse the body part(s) in progressively hotter and hotter in the shower. Put the source of heat right on the itchy/blistery part. Now this needs to be done with caution and persistence in about a minute or less. If it's immediately too hot, put one or two layers of paper towel between the container and the skin. Here is the normal progression: Low heat will first make it itch worse, than, as heat gets through the layers/skin, itch will subdue with a very pleasant feeling, and finally as soon as it gets painful, withdraw the source of heat. If the source of heat is not hot enough, you'll keep itching, or itching will resume soon. If it's too hot for too long, it may burn your skin and make things worse. So, go progressively, apply pressure with the container progressively, turn slowly the cold water focet downand wait for the change in sensations. Don't use it with a vengeance, trying to kill the itch (no matter how much you'd like that!); that will make you put too much heat and burn the area. Go progressively, let the temperature be just right and leave it at that temperature for as long as it's moving from itch to relief and withdraw when it's reaching pain level. Try to limit the heated area to the itching area, with little water or just an angle at the bottom of a cup. Move or rotate the cup to bring fresh heat to the itching area. If it doesn't work, you're not doing it right, or it's not hot enough. Just my 2 pennies.
--"Daniel" (daniel@NOSPAMoco.net) submitted 23/May/2003

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Tape

A trick I used is tape. Scotch tape or duct tape or any kind of tape can take away the itch. I used this during school when I couldnt take the itch so I put scotch tape on it and the itch went away. Plus it can take away the rash itself because the stickyness can dry it all out. Use this, its a very useful method.
--"Rob Wagner" (no email provided) submitted 24/May/2003

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Hair Spray

How to stop the itch - spray common hair spray generously on the itch sites- itch will stop instantly. Carry the can with you ( a small purse size will do) and as soon as itch starts- spray it. Keep this up and you will notice it does not spread and blisters do not form- and it will go away in a few days. Hair spray blocks the air(oxygen) to the rash and the rash must have air to itch and spread.
--"Bob Coker" (rwcok@NOSPAMbellsouth.net) submitted 2/Jun/2003

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Bee Propolis

I just got poison ivy for the first time in my 41 years of life! It is on my wrist and forearm. I have been using the hot-hotter-hottest water trick which works very well for me. I am also using a natural bee substance call "Bee Propolis" which I bought over the internet from www.beepollen4u.com. I put it on with a Q-tip (it will stain and be sticky on your fingers), let it dry, and experience about 8 to 10 hours of itch relief. I bought this bee propolis for canker sore relief (which it is great at also) and have been able to get another "bang for my buck" as a poison ivy cure.
--"Kathy Kraus" (kraushouse2@NOSPAMcomcast.com) submitted 5/Jun/2003

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Medicated Tar

I have contracted a poison ivy rash in my new home in S.E. MI. My rash began as 3 small blisters on my hand, and has now spread over parts of the rest of my body. I found a bad reaction comes from the hair dryer. It seemed only to increase the itching, and to spread the Urushiol Oil around. However, the application of medicated tar ointment seems to be fighting back, so I will continue to use it with good faith. I am using an ointment with the highest percentage of coal tar I could find at Walgreen's for about $8 - $17.
--"Jeremy Malchow" (jeemers@NOSPAMhotmail.com) submitted 15/Jun/2003

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