POISON IVY: OF SAP AND SOAPS Poison ivy is a common bothersome rash in summer. It can be mildly uncomfortable or wildly unbearable. It is caused by an oil sap called urishiol that comes from the three leaved poisoned ivy plant. Girl scouts will remember being told “Leaves of three, let it be” before we went hiking or camped out. Often prevention is not effective and the simple brush of a poison ivy leaf against skin produces and angry red blister rash. It often produces a linear (line shaped) blister break out showing where the plant strokes against the skin. About 80% of people are sensitive to the poison ivy plant so it is highly likely to get a rash upon exposure. What to do to treat this rash?

The sooner the skin is washed off, the better. There are a few soaps that are effective. An over the counter product called Zanaflex removes the urushiol though nothing used more than 24 hours after exposure works perfectly. A cheaper and effective bar soap that washes off the oil is Fels Naphtha, an old-fashioned beige soap that was often used for laundry and other household tasks. It can sometimes be found in the laundry aisle of a Jewel grocery store; if not, a hardware store is a good source. If you are prone to repeat poison ivy rashes keep a soap product at home.

What else will help? Cool compresses reduce the itching. Wet a washcloth with cool water and place it against the rash. Astringents can help dry up the blister rash to assist with healing. Witch hazel in an astringent. It comes in a bottle in the pharmacy and there are also witch hazel wipes that are soothing and convenient as well as witch hazel spray, which is a little harder to find.
If itching is very bad, take an antihistamine like Claritin or Benadryl. Benadryl is best for bedtime as it causes drowsiness. Tepid baths with a handful of baking soda in the tub will reduce itchy skin. After drying off apply some pink Calamine lotion, the old standby for drying up itchy blister rashes. It was standard care for chickenpox, back when chickenpox was more common.

After several days of self-care for poison ivy, if it is too uncomfortable, seek medical care. Oral steroids can be prescribed, and they will greatly reduce itching. They do usually have to be taken for about ten days, as shorter courses can sometimes result in rebound rash and symptoms. If you have had poison ivy before and catch it