Whether your itchy rash is from poison ivy, oak, or sumac, you've got plenty of choices to get relief. For most folks, those annoying bumps and blisters will be nothing but a bad memory in a few weeks.
If you think your skin rubbed up against one of the poisonous plants, wash the area thoroughly with soap and cool water right away. The sooner you clean your skin, the more likely you'll be able to remove the oils that cause an allergic reaction. It's also a good idea to wash all clothes and shoes that may have touched one of the plants, too.
A rash due to poison ivy, oak, or sumac may show up right away. But sometimes it can take a few days after you had contact with the plant for a rash to appear.
Home Remedies for Poison Ivy, Oak, or Sumac
Even though your rash can go away on its own in 1 to 3 weeks, your skin will feel better if you take some steps at home.
To help with oozing problems, try over-the-counter creams or lotions that you put on the rash, such as:
- aluminum acetate (Burow's solution)
- aluminum sulfate
- calcium acetate
You can also get relief from a steroid cream if you use it during the first few days after you get a rash. But experts say over-the-counter steroids, such as 1% hydrocortisone, may not be strong enough to do the job. Your doctor may need to prescribe a stronger version.
Some folks take antihistamines, but they won't make your itchiness go away. Antihistamines that make you feel sleepy, though, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl), can help you take your mind off the itchy feeling when you go to bed.
Your skin will feel better if you soak in a bathtub with cool water and an oatmeal-based bath product. Or place a cool, wet compress on the rash for 15 to 30 minutes at a time, a few times a day.
There are a few things to avoid. As tough as it is to resist, don't scratch the blisters. Bacteria on your hands can get into the blisters and lead to an infection.
Also, some creams or ointments can make your rash worse. Don't use any of these:
- Antihistamine creams or lotions
- Anesthetic creams with benzocaine
- Antibiotic creams with neomycin or bacitracin
When to See Your Doctor
Some people have a more serious reaction to poison ivy, oak, or sumac. Make an appointment with your doctor if you notice any of these problems:
- Temperature over 100 F
- Pus on the rash
- Soft yellow scabs
- Itching that gets worse or keeps you up at night
- The rash spreads to your eyes, mouth, or genital area
- Your rash doesn't get better within a few weeks
Your doctor may prescribe an oral corticosteroid, such as prednisone. She may also give you a steroid cream to apply to your skin. If the rash becomes infected, you may need to take an oral antibiotic.
When to Get Emergency Care
If you have a severe reaction to poison ivy, oak, or sumac, you should go to the emergency room right away. Some signs that you need medical help quickly are:
- Trouble breathing
- Difficulty swallowing
- An eyelid swells shut
- Rash on your face or genitals
- Your skin itches everywhere, and nothing makes it feel better