If you are out enjoying beautiful warm weather by walking in the woods or working in the yard, remember the adage: Leaves of three, let it be. Not every three-leaved plant is poison ivy or poison oak, but unless you learn to recognize them, it’s a good working guideline. Otherwise, you’ll need some poison ivy remedies. Which ones work?
Searching for Relief from Poison Ivy:
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 remedies almost seem to be making it worse.
Is there anything on the market that really works for poison ivy?
Poison Ivy Remedies That Don’t Help:
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.”
Watch Out for Diphenhydramine:
They also warn patients to avoid ivy preparations with the topical antihistamine diphenhydramine because it may make the rash worse. These doctors don’t recommend scrubbing with strong soap. Washing with lots of plain water or wiping with alcohol may help, but only within the first five minutes after contact.
Hot Water Relieves Itching for a While:
Some people get relief from the itching due to 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.
Prescription Medicine That May Help:
Poison ivy and poison oak contain an oily substance, urushiol, that triggers contact dermatitis in hypersensitive people. 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. Studies of poison ivy treatments are rare, but a recent one found that only a combination of high-potency topical steroid along with oral corticosteroid (usually prednisone) actually lessened the time that a poison ivy rash itched (Vaught & Mold, Journal of Family Practice, Nov. 2016).
Will a Homeopathic Remedy Help Prevent a Poison Ivy Reaction?
One dermatologist has noted that preventive measures, while useful, don’t always work. Conventional dermatologists often overlook homeopathic poison ivy pills (Rhus toxicodendron) although complementary practitioners may prescribe them (Signore, Dermatology Online Journal, Jan. 15, 2017). The results of two open-label studies look promising, so placebo-controlled trials would be welcome.
Be Wary of Misdiagnosis:
Most people make their own diagnosis of the itchy rash and treat it with poison ivy remedies. An unusual rash deserves a doctor visit, however. That’s because some skin reactions to a tick bite could mimic poison ivy and lead to Lyme disease not being diagnosed (Mazori et al, Dermatology Online Journal, Aug. 15, 2015).