Poison ivy is a poisonous plant that grows throughout the United States except for Alaska, Hawaii, and parts of the West Coast.
Poison ivy can be recognized by its leaves which have three glossy leaflets, either with smooth or toothed edges.
In the spring, leaves are reddish in color, in the summer they turn green, and in the fall they can be yellow, orange, or red in color.
Poison ivy rashes can take hours or several days after exposure to develop. These rashes are usually very itchy and can sometimes cause blisters.
Thankfully, poison ivy rashes aren’t contagious and can’t spread from person to person.
But you can be exposed to poison ivy by coming into contact with clothing, pets, tools, and other items that have urushiol oil on them, which is why washing your clothing and other materials after coming into contact with the plant is important.
In the meantime, below are some of the most effective remedies you can try to help alleviate the itch and discomfort that a poison ivy rash causes.
Wash the Rash at the First Sign of Poison Ivy
Dermatologists recommend rinsing your skin with lukewarm, soapy water immediately after coming into contact with the poison ivy plant.
This will help to rinse off some of the oil that causes a poison ivy rash.
You should also thoroughly wash all of the clothes you were wearing when you came in contact with the plant and anything else that may have the plant oil on its surface.
Importantly, you should try to avoid or limit scratching, which can increase the risk of infection.
Apply a Cold Compress
Cool compresses or washcloths applied to the rash area will help temporarily alleviate the itch.
Soak in an Oatmeal Bath
Taking short baths in lukewarm water prepared with colloidal oatmeal will help relieve the itching and irritation of the rash.
Use Hydrocortisone Cream or Calamine Lotion
Certain over-the-counter (OTC) creams and lotions can also provide relief.
Calamine lotion will help dry the oozing and weeping of poison ivy and hydrocortisone can help relieve the itch.
Take an Oral Antihistamine
OTC oral antihistamines pills like diphenhydramine (Benadryl), loratadine (Claritin), or cetirizine (Zyrtec) can relieve itchy skin caused by a poison ivy rash.
Importantly, you should not apply topical antihistamines directly to your skin, as these can worsen your poison ivy rash and exacerbate the itch.
Make a Baking Soda Paste
Baking soda is a protectant that can relieve minor irritation and itching caused by poison ivy rashes.
You can add one cup of baking soda to a lukewarm bath or make a paste to apply directly to the skin by mixing baking soda with a small amount of water until it is the consistency of a paste.
Soothe the Skin With Aloe Vera
Though there isn’t enough evidence to show that aloe vera will speed up the healing process of a poison ivy rash, it may help to soothe and cool the skin, providing temporary relief.
Don’t Use Apple Cider Vinegar
These days, apple cider vinegar is often recommended as a panacea for many ailments.
Unfortunately, evidence demonstrating its health benefits is limited and mixed. In fact, if consumed in excess, apple cider vinegar can actually be harmful to your health.
When treating poison ivy rashes specifically, the National Poison Control Center does not recommend applying vinegar of any kind topically, as it can further irritate the skin and increase pain and discomfort.
When To See a Medical Professional
In most cases, a poison ivy rash can be managed at home and will improve within 7-10 days and completely resolve within 2-3 weeks.
But if you experience any of the following symptoms, please seek emergency care:
- Difficulty breathing or swallowing
- Severe skin pain
- A rash around the eyes, mouth, or genitals
- Swelling of the face (particularly around the eyes)
- Itching that gets worse or makes sleep impossible
- Rash that covers the majority of your body
- A fever
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K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
Aloe vera for treating acute and chronic wounds. (2012.)
Get the Facts: Apple Cider Vinegar. (2021.)
Outsmarting Poison Ivy and Other Poisonous Plants. (2021.)
Plants used to treat skin diseases. (2014.)
Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac: How to Treat the Rash.
Poison Ivy, Sumac and Oak.
Vinegar is not Always Safe.