Leaves of three, let it be. You’ve probably heard someone reciting this old saying if you’ve ever been hiking, camping or climbing in wooded or marshy areas. Those notorious leaves of three are the calling card of poison ivy, though different varieties can have groups of five, seven or even nine.
Poison ivy is a vine or shrub that grows in wooded or marshy areas throughout North America, and you might be surprised to learn that they aren’t really poisonous. What they do have is a sticky, colorless, odorless and long-lasting oil called urushiol which causes an itchy, blistering rash after it touches your skin. It’s so sticky in fact, that even the slightest touch can leave the oil behind on skin, clothing, tools, equipment and pet fur for weeks. According to the American Skin Association, up to 85% of Americans are allergic to poison ivy with 10-15% experiencing a severe allergic reaction. Sensitivities vary from mild to severe and may not cause any reaction the first time you’re exposed.
The good news is, a poison ivy rash and accompanying blisters aren’t contagious to other people. The bad news is it can be transferred to other parts of your body with your fingers. The allergic reaction to poison ivy typically develops 12-48 hours after exposure and can last up to 3 weeks. The severity of the rash and its uncomfortable symptoms depends on how much urushiol gets on your skin.
Seven ways to get rid of poison ivy fast
If you’ve come in contact with poison ivy, it’s important to remove the urushiol as quickly as possible to minimize symptoms. Here are seven ways to get rid of poison ivy fast:
- Rubbing alcohol
Clean your skin with rubbing alcohol as soon as possible (within 10 minutes) after contact with poison ivy to help remove the urushiol from the skin, minimize discomfort and lower your risk of a severe skin rash. It’s a good idea to carry alcohol wipes at all times if you’re going camping or hiking.
- Lather, rinse and repeat
Thoroughly wash the skin, and under the fingernails, with a mild soap and lukewarm water to remove plant oils. Showering within 60 minutes of exposure may help limit the spread and severity of the rash. Next, put on your rubber gloves and wash anything that came in contact with the plant to avoid secondary exposure.
- Cold compress
A cool, wet compress can help reduce itching and inflammation once symptoms begin. Apply a moistened washcloth to the affected area for 15-30 minutes several times a day as needed. You can also try soaking the compress in an astringent liquid like aluminum acetate, apple cider vinegar or chilled black tea to further reduce swelling and itching.
- Avoid scratching
Scratching a poison ivy rash can temporarily bring relief, but it may also intensify your rash, cause blisters to burst and lead to infection. As difficult as it may be, just say no to scratching. If you scratch before cleaning your fingernails you may unknowingly spread the urushiol to a larger area of your skin, which will only lead to more itching and a more severe rash.
- Topical ointments
There are several over-the-counter lotions and creams that can help reduce symptoms of itching and swelling like hydrocortisone cream, calamine lotion and aloe vera gel. Products containing zinc acetate, zinc carbonate and zinc oxide also help treat the oozing and weeping caused by urushiol.
- Over-the-counter oral antihistamines
Oral medications like Claritin or Benadryl can help ease your itching and inflammation but talk to your doctor to find out which medication is right for you. You should never apply a topical antihistamine cream to your rash as it can actually make the itching worse. Instead, reach for more rubbing alcohol to alleviate symptoms, dry out blisters and prevent infection.
- Go to urgent care
If your rash is widespread, on your face or genitals, or it has left you covered in blisters, visit your nearest urgent care facility for prompt medical attention. Not only can they prescribe a steroid to help ease the itching and inflammation, but they can also examine you and prescribe an antibiotic medication if a bacterial infection is present.
Recognizing and avoiding the poison ivy plant is the best way to prevent an itchy, uncomfortable, blistering rash. If you need urgent medical care for a poison ivy rash or would like to learn more about how to get rid of poison ivy fast, visit Coastal Urgent Care of Bossier/Haughton. Walk-ins welcome Mon-Fri, 8 a.m. – 7 p.m. and Sat-Sun, 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.