Every outdoorsy person knows the nightmare that is poison ivy. This plant with spiky leaves dominates the landscapes of North America and can appear as harmless as any other piece of shrubbery you encounter on a hiking trail. But don’t let appearances fool you. You touch one of these bad boys and you’re in for a world of hurt.
Exposure to poison ivy can cause blistering rashes that can last for ages. If this sounds like something you currently have developing on your skin, stick around. We’ll give you a quick guide on how to get rid of poison ivy as fast as possible.
What Is Poison Ivy?
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If you’ve ever been on a camping trip then you’ve likely heard the rhyme—leaves of three, let it be. The leaves of the three in question refer to poison ivy and its distinct three blades. This nasty piece of flora is a type of shrub that most commonly grows in marshy or densely wooded areas all across North America.
Though common types of poison ivy have a crown of three leaves, different varieties can have groupings of five, seven, or even nine leaves. Apart from its blades, another thing this plant is infamous for is being poisonous. Every year, over 85% of Americans that come in contact with poison ivy experience severe allergic reactions.
However, you may be shocked to learn that the rash doesn’t occur because the plant is poisonous. Research shows that the culprit responsible for the nasty reaction is a compound called urushiol. This substance is named after the Japanese word urushi, which means lacquer, and it’s something poison ivy excretes when its leaves get bruised or damaged.
After it comes into contact with skin, urushiol triggers an allergic reaction known as contact dermatitis. This usually manifests as red bumps or blisters all over the skin, which are accompanied by persistent itching and burning. Depending on the severity of the contact, the rash can be very dangerous and impede a person from performing day-to-day tasks.
How to Get Rid of Poison Ivy: 5 Ways
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So your last venture into the great outdoors has left you with a painful skin rash. However, you can’t afford to skip work and spend the day lying in bed trying not to obsessively scratch your itching skin. We’ve got your back.
There are several things you can do to get rid of your poison ivy rash as quickly and as painlessly as possible.
1. Figure Out If Its Poison Ivy
Before treating any skin rash yourself, you should first make sure if it’s a poison ivy allergic reaction in the first place. Lots of skin conditions, like psoriasis, can cause rashes that present similarly to that triggered by poison ivy. Therefore, rather than helping you feel better, treating them on your own might make things worse.
Moreover, even if your rash was caused by an external source, the culprit may not necessarily be poison ivy. Other plants, like poison oak, poison sumac, and even mango rinds, can cause that trademark red rash. So, before applying any course of action, think long and hard about what you might have come into contact with.
2. Clean Your Skin With Rubbing Alcohol
If you’ve determined that your rash is indeed caused by poison ivy, then your first objective is to get the urushiol off. The moment the rash appears, dab some rubbing alcohol on it. Keep gently tapping the affected area till your alcohol wipes come off clean.
Though you can use water to remove urushiol, keep in mind that in may not be as effective. Urushiol is a sticky substance that stubbornly clings to surfaces. Therefore, water on its own may not be enough to completely get rid of it.
3. Lather, Rinse, and Repeat
After applying rubbing alcohol, you can wash up with some lukewarm water to finish cleaning your skin. Be sure to use a mild soap and thoroughly scrub under the fingernails. Another good idea is to hop in the shower. Showering an hour after exposure may help limit the spread and severity of the rash.
When you’ve finished cleaning your skin, be sure to throw out any clothing or equipment that came in contact with the plant to avoid secondary exposure.
4. Cold Compress
Once you’ve removed the urushiol, immediately apply a cool, wet compress to the affected area. This will help minimize inflammation and itching before the symptoms can kick in full force. Keep applying a cool compress on the area several times a day, and keep it on your skin for 15-30 minute intervals.
Instead of water on the compress, you can use astringent liquids like aluminum acetate, apple cider vinegar, or chilled black tea to stop the swelling more effectively.
5. Use Ointments and Over-The-Counter Oral Antihistamines
Even if you apply the best preventive methods, you will still end up itching. The key thing here is not to give in to the temptation. Obsessively scratching the rash can cause the blisters to burst. This in turn can lead to severe infection. To soothe the worst of your itches, use hydrocortisone cream, calamine lotion, and aloe vera gel.
If your itch is particularly severe, you can also use over-the-counter antihistamine meds like Claritin or Benadryl. However, be sure to consult your doctor before to make sure medication is the right course of action for you. Also note that directly applying antihistamines to the rash may make the condition worse.
How Long Does It Take To Get Rid of Poison Ivy?
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After googling how to get rid of poison ivy, the next thing you’ve likely looked up is how long does it take to get rid of the tell-tale rash. And the answer is that it depends.
Rashes will typically develop some 12-48 hours after a person comes in contact with the plant. With proper at-home care, they can usually last about a week or two before clearing up all on their own.
But, if you had the misfortune of falling into a poison ivy shrub, then do yourself a favor and take a few weeks off work. Severe poison ivy rashes can cause a whole host of other problems, like infection and fever. This is especially true if the plant came into contact with a sensitive part of your body, like eyes, mouth, and genitals.
If the rash gets worse, starts spreading to other areas, or starts oozing pus, seek medical attention immediately. These symptoms are a good sign that the allergic reaction is not going to go away on its own and that you need proper care to get healthy again.
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