Q. I recently returned from a camping trip in the mountains where I caught a bad case of poison ivy. I am sitting here itching and oozing, and my hand is swollen up so I can barely hold the pen. It has even spread to my private parts.
I’ve tried a couple of over-the-counter lotions but nothing seems to be helping very much. Neither the calamine nor the hydrocortisone stopped the itching and the other poison ivy remedy almost seems to be making it worse.
Is there anything on the market that really works for poison ivy?
A. We’re not surprised that calamine and hydrocortisone have offered little relief. Renowned dermatologists such as Albert Kligman, MD, Howard Maibach, MD and Jere Guin, MD, believe that when it comes to poison ivy, “OTC hydrocortisone is useless” and calamine lotion “is innocuous but is not really beneficial.”
They also warn patients to avoid ivy preparations with the topical antihistamine diphenhydramine because it may make the rash worse. Despite popular belief, these doctors don’t recommend scrubbing with strong soap. Washing with lots of plain water or wiping with alcohol may be helpful, but only if it’s done within the first five minutes after contact.
A severe case of poison ivy like yours deserves prescription medicine. A dermatologist can determine whether you need a high-powered cortisone cream such as betamethasone (Diprolene) or clobetasol (Temovate) or a short course of oral prednisone.
Some people get relief from a mild case of poison ivy (or a bug bite) by putting the affected skin under hot water for a second or two. The water should be hot enough to be slightly painful but not so hot that it will burn. A very short exposure can take away the itch for a couple of hours.