poison ivy, poison ivy remedies

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).

Revised 5/29/2017

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  1. christina

    It may have not worked for him. But as a kid I had poison ivy so much my arms are scarred from it to this day. I swear by oatmeal baths, Calamine, and Benadryl. Worked for me and works for my family now without having to put unnecessary steroids in our bodies. There will be plenty of time for those as we get older.

  2. Berryman

    As a child, I was always in the woods, and contracted many cases of Ivy / Oak poisoning. The primary defense, as soon as possible after returning from the excursion is to wash vigorously with Fels Naptha bar soap. The only times this has failed me is when I forgot to wash with Fels Naptha. The next day or sooner the itching starts. In these cases, first use Fels Naptha as above, then apply regular vinegar ( 5% acetic acid) which will help to dry the pustules. As always, don’t scratch!

  3. D'Lain B

    Caladryl Clear works great. After it dries wrap the area so that you do not accidently irritate it to cause it to itch. Also, standing in the shower and letting hot water run on the affected area feels good and stops itching for a while. Afterwards put on the Caladryl and wrap.

  4. Virginia

    The Tecnu products and their Calagel work great. The Calagel is good for bug bites, too. You should go to the doctor, however for some of these systemic and body-wide rashes, because you never know when your system might get overwhelmed by so many histamines, especially with repeated exposures. Safety first.

  5. Marti

    The best and most convenient product my family has used to manage poison ivy is salt ….for over 40 years …it is faster acting, longer lasting, easy to locate and less expensive….better than any product I’ve ever purchased. The best process is to put a large blob of salt in one hand….add a tiny bit of water, just to dampen it ( not runny ). Rub it aggressively on the itchy area….really….as if you want to scrub your skin off.

    First, it feels wonderful to ” itch the itch ” ….next you realize it no longer itches ! Allow the salty mixture to dry on your arm or leg…. then lightly sweep the salt crystals off your body….leaving the salty haze on. It’s best to do this over a sink….in the shower…or outside.

    You may want to repeat in several hours. It isn’t long before the salt apparently dries up the poison ivy. If my case is more than minor, I might also take an ordinary antihistamine. Of course you don’t do this around your eyes or intimate areas.

  6. Beverly

    I’ve had good results with dabbing the blisters with milk of magnesia, (especially if it’s a little thick). let it dry and reapply as needed. It stops the itching for me and dries up the blisters quickly.

    My bottle was very old and had a buildup of milk of magnesia of almost a paste like consistency around the neck of the bottle so it stayed on the blisters very well.

  7. Susan

    Break off a spine from your aloe plant and squeeze the contents onto your rash (after washing your skin first). It not only accelerates healing, but helps with the itch too.

    If you have contact allergies, I recommend getting a prescription corticosteroid cream ahead of time to have around when you need it.

    Re: Diphenhydramine – anyone who has Restless Legs Syndrome SHOULD NOT USE THIS EXCEPT to save their life if they’re in anaphylactic shock. It will aggravate the RLS, and keep you awake and miserable. All antihistamines do this to me, so I avoid them.

    Please do try the aloe remedy. It’s a great and inexpensive home remedy. Buy the plant if you don’t have one already.

  8. Herrold
    Oroville, Ca

    Last time I had a bad case was some time ago. Maddening itch. I tried a homeopathic “poison oak” remedy put out by Hylands. It dulled the itch for three or four hours. Then I’d have to repeat. I got through three weeks, then it went away. When it was “dulled” I hardly noticed it unless I thought about it. But after three or four hours I has definitely aware of it. Then I’d take another dose. I always keep this remedy around. But you used to be able to get a larger bottle that would last a week. Now Hylands only puts out little bottles. Still, I wouldn’t be without it.

  9. Jan

    Jewel Weed leaves, crushed and rubbed on Poison Ivy rash as soon as possible, relieves both the itch and the rash for me.

  10. JW

    For many years we used Rhuli-Gel from J&J with wonderful relief from itching, then they changed the name to Band-Aid Anti-Itch, then it went off the market completely. I just saw that a company called Trifecta will be bringing it back in 2017. I hope it’s true and they use the same formula.

  11. jeri

    I am probably duplicating, haven’t read all comments. As lifelong sufferer here’s what works for me. … Spit on it-as soon as you realize you have made contact rinse it , off spit will do if you don’t have water. Once it’s too late, hot water, as hot as you can stand , and cold ice pack will reduce itching to bearable level . And calamine still works.

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