Many of us who love the outdoors have, at some point, come face-to-face with those pesky three-leafed plants: poison oak and poison ivy. Depending on where you live, these plants can grow along hiking trails and sometimes in your own backyard. Unfortunately, often the irritating rash that comes from the plants does not show up until days after you have been exposed, meaning you could have exposed yourself to the plant many times before realizing what it is.
While prescription steroids can be beneficial in conquering a nasty allergic reaction, in some milder cases, there are things that you can do right at home to help increase your comfort while your skin heals.
In the Kitchen
Some of the classic old-wives-tale remedies start in the kitchen. While some have been questioned over the years, others have been proven to provide some relief to rashes. Remember: none of these will heal the rash, but help you feel a bit better.
The very first step in helping your poison oak or ivy rash is to try to prevent it from happening in the first place. Washing with dish soap will help eliminate the oil from the leaves that may have touched your skin, hopefully stopping the oil from penetrating into your skin.
Banana peels have a natural cooling quality in them that should cool off the itching sensation of your rash.
Apple cider vinegar
This remedy has been proven effective for a variety of ailments, including poison ivy rashes. Soak a rag with the vinegar and place over the rash. It is intended to help dry out the blisters and prevent itching.
This one is also a good remedy for chicken pox-like rashes. Make a baking soda paste by mixing it with water and apply it directly to the rash. It should give you some pretty quick relief.
Oatmeal baths can cure a whole array of skin irritations, including poison oak and ivy rashes. The thing to remember here is that you don’t want to just dump some oatmeal in a hot bath. That will do a number on your plumbing. In order to get the benefits of the oatmeal without letting it all go down the drain, you can place oatmeal in cheesecloth or nylon, and either tie it or use a rubber band to turn it into a little bag.
Then run it under the hot water to create your oatmeal bath. Also keep in mind that while the hot water is key to cooking the oatmeal, you do not want to sit in a hot bath if you have a rash. The heat may give you a momentary reprieve from the itching, but it will irritate both the rash as well as your skin.
If you know that you have brushed against poison oak or ivy, applying lemon juice immediately after can get rid of the urushiol, the chemical that causes the rash, before it has a chance to get into your skin.
If you have some extra coffee from this morning still sitting in the pot, you may use it to help your poison oak or ivy rash. Coffee contains a natural acid that could reduce some of the symptoms you are feeling from the rash itself. However, do not use this hot. Hot coffee will not only run the risk of burning your skin but could also make your rash more irritated.
In Your First Aid Box
- Rubbing alcohol: This is only effective if you know your skin has been exposed to a poisonous plant. Cleaning the exposed skin with alcohol after contact will remove the plant’s oils from your skin before it has a chance to get into your skin to create the rash.
- Cold compress: A cold compress from your freezer or first aid kit can calm a rash that has gotten flared up and irritated. The cold will help relieve the itchiness while cooling off the reaction itself.
- Calamine lotion: This classic remedy is still the go-to for many people out there. You just dab the pink lotion on the rash with a cotton ball and wait until it dries. It is intended to help reduce the amount of irritation that you have from the rash itself.
- Hydrocortisone cream: Most people will have this anti-itch cream in their first aid kit. Putting this on twice a day once the rash has appeared can help with the irritation and reduce the symptoms. However, it will not reduce the duration of the rash. You will just have to wait until your skin heals.
- Witch hazel: Witch hazel is safe to use on children in case it is one of your kids who has been exposed. It can help heal the blisters and provide some relief to the rash.
When in doubt, always consult with your healthcare provider to receive professional treatment for a poison ivy or poison oak exposure. Everyone will react differently to the plants, and the allergic reactions vary in severity. Keep in mind that all of the remedies listed previously will not reduce the duration of the rash, which can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, depending on both the person as well as the level of exposure.
You can prevent exposure to the plants by knowing where they grow and how they look. The old saying is “leaves of three, let it be.” Both poison ivy and poison oak grow in three-leaf patches, making it easy to spot if you know what to spot. Poison ivy will turn red by the fall. Poison oak does as well, but the leaves often have a bit of red in them when they are growing in spring. Another easy trick is that you can see the sheen of the oil on the leaves themselves, making them easier to pick out.
Remember to be safe and cautious in the woods!
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