Monday, July 30, 2012

Poison Ivy

Along with intense storms and accompanying power outages, saunalike heat and near-100% humidity, and a mosquito season that lasts May-September, another of the dubious pleasures of living in the mid-Atlantic is the ubiquity of poison ivy.

I spend part of every summer with my jaw, lips, chin and cheeks itching, red, oozing, and inflamed, and cursing myself for spending so much time kissing these blasted dogs. This weekend, my face swelled up like a chipmunk.

Since having dogs makes it all but impossible to avoid infection with poison ivy, if you live where it exists and are sensitive to it, I thought I would distill here some of the remedies I have found to be effective in case any of you are sufferers. 
Just looking at it makes me itchy

Remedies I've tried:
Tecnu. Dried up rash and removed itch when I used it on a bad case of poison oak when I was at a music festival in California years ago. This time, didn't do much except give me scaly lizard skin.

Calamine plus from CVS. A product containing Calamine lotion+Pramoxine Hcl. Calms the itching for sure.
Benadryl capsules. Take 2 every 4-6 hours.
Vinegar, white or apple cider. Burns like a sonofagun but holds off the itch for a while afterward--maybe 30 minutes to 1 hour. 
Baking soda. Make a thick paste and apply. Rinse when dry. Burned enough to bring tears to my eyes when I put it on, but after rinsing the itch was gone for a good while. Made my face break out in large oozing blisters, while before I put it on my face was just red and swollen. I think this was a vital stage of the healing process though and needed to happen; maybe the baking soda made it happen faster. Many swear by a full immersion in a  baking soda bath.
Banana peel - Touted by many as a homemade "miracle cure", the inside of a banana peel rubbed on poison ivy rashes may bring relief. Maybe helped a bit when I tried it, but not much.
Dishwashing liquid. Apply liberally from the bottle at full strength, leave on until it dries. Did cut the itching when I tried it. 
Gold Bond Maximum relief cream. Contains menthol and Pramoxine Hcl. Worked really well.

Salt scrub. Last night, when the itching was mostly gone, but my face was still swollen like a chipmunk, I made a mask of Trader Joes Lavender salt scrub. My theory being that the greater salt concentration outside my skin would draw excess fluid out of the swollen part by osmosis. Did draw fluid out, but holy mother of dog stung like my face was on fire. Only for the masochistic and those who have anger issues they would like to work through by subjecting already inflamed, raw skin to further abuse.

Update: I spoke to a doctor and she said not to use heat on a poison ivy rash. Use ice instead.

Remedies I haven't tried
Oatmeal - Boil in water, let it cool for a few minutes, then apply warm to the affected area. Can combine with a tablespoon or two of baking soda.
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. Available in anti-itch creams.
Vicks VapoRub will replace the itching with a cool burn for fast temporary relief. After the burn subsides, wipe off the vaporub.
cortisone anti-itch creams like benedryl 2%. Some say it works like a miracle to diminish ooze and blisters in 12 hours; others say it doesn't do much
Aveeno bath
Old Spice stick deodorant (white only). You can use it on the face and your whole body. It will stop the itching almost immediately and in a couple of days, your poison ivy will be almost gone.
ZANFEL poison ivy cream is supposed to work wonders.

For the swelling and scars that persist for 7-10 days, you can get a  prescription for prednisone. You can also use a steroid cream; Fluocinonide is the one prescribed for me. The doctor also said to use a triple antibiotic like bacitracin on the scars, which are a sign of infection.

All the remedies I've tried, I used in the past 72 hours so it is somewhat difficult to tell which results were the result of which remedy.  My hope though was to pull together everything that might be useful to dog owners and other sufferers during poison ivy season.

Do YOU have a favorite remedy that stops the itch, swelling, or pain of poison ivy??


  1. Fortunately, it doesn't appear that I'm sensitive...I've only had it twice in my life. I am marking your post though. Good information in case I ever do get it. The Old Spice deodorant is intriguing.

  2. I've never had an experience with/reaction to poison ivy. I never thought about the fact that you could have a reaction after kissing your pup. Man, what a pain that must be!

  3. Hi Kirsten, yikes - some of those remedies really hurt. Listen, you need to be nice to your face. We don't want scars to develop on your face. You have a very nice face, okay? Stick with the Calamine Plus. Sam.

  4. I'm very sensitive and one thing I found that gave relief and healing was to take a snip off my aloe plant and put the gel straight on the affected area.

    I got mine from my dogs as well.

  5. It sounds like you're really sensitive to poison ivy. I grew up in MD and my dad was too. I'm so sorry for your suffering.

    We found it helpful to swim in a chlorinated pool. The chlorine dries up your skin pretty quickly and doesn't burn too much if you haven't broken open the pustules with all the scratching.

    If Florian is less sensitive than you are, you might want to ask him to wipe the dogs down after returning from a walk in the woods. I suspect they're carrying the oils on their coats.

    I hope you get some relief soon. Fall is coming.

  6. I've never been in contact with poison ivy and after reading this, I'm pretty sure it's not on my To Do List. Those are some really interesting remedies. The one that puzzles me is Old Spice and its effectiveness. Makes me wonder what potent stuff is in this product. Reading this, I gather dogs are NOT affected by poison ivy. Doubly interesting. I wonder how that is. They seem to be allergic to so many plants including grass and wandering Jew (at least the dogs here, according to our vet, and including Georgia).


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