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At-Home Poison Ivy Treatment

If you develop a poison ivy rash despite trying to wash the oil off your skin, you can turn to home treatments to soothe the itching. Apply cold compresses, Brancaccio advises, and then calamine lotion. You can also take Benadryl (available over the counter) by mouth to help calm down the allergic reaction. Be aware that Benadryl pills will likely make you sleepy -- not such a bad thing if you're itching to death.

Hydrocortisone cream, 1% strength, over the counter, can also help.

Poison Ivy Treatment: When to Seek Professional Help

A typical case of poison ivy generally subsides within a week or so, says Wally Ghurabi, DO, chief of emergency services at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center and Orthopaedic Hospital in Santa Monica, Calif.

But not always. If your poison ivy rash and discomfort seem to get worse, it may be time to see your doctor or even go to your local emergency department. "When you see increased redness and swelling, when the area is warm to the touch and the rash is spreading, go to the doctor," Ghurabi says.

Difficult as it is, do not scratch the area, he adds.

Ghurabi has seen emergency department patients with widespread poison ivy rashes. Depending on the body part exposed to the oil, the rash can get very uncomfortable, he says. Sometimes, a secondary infection can set in, he says, and things can turn serious, such as a bloodstream infection requiring hospitalization.

Prevention Plan

Avoiding poison ivy is the best bet, researchers agree. "Leaves of three, let it be" is the motto repeated by the experts. Each leaf of the poison ivy plant has three leaflets.

An over-the-counter product containing bentoquatam (IvyBlock) is effective, according to Peng, if applied before exposure. It literally provides a physical barrier, he says, so the oil can't penetrate the skin.

Wearing long pants and long-sleeve shirts, though not always plausible in the summer heat, is also recommended, as well as wearing socks and shoes to garden.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on July 13, 2007


SOURCES: Lewis Ziska, PhD, weed ecologist, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Beltsville, Md. Ziska, L. Weed Science, July/August 2007; vol 55: pp 288-92. Wally Ghurabi, DO, chief of emergency services, Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center and Orthopaedic Hospital, Santa Monica, Calif. Mohan, J. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, June 13, 2006; vol 103: pp 9086-9089. David Peng, MD, assistant professor of clinical dermatology and director of t he contact dermatitis clinic, University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine, Los Angeles. Ronald Brancaccio, MD, clinical professor of dermatology, New York University School of Medicine; dermatologist, Skin Institute of New York; fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology. American Academy of Dermatology.

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