How to Treat Poison Ivy (2023)

Most of us have heard the rhyme, “Leaves of three, leave it be.” There’s a good reason for the warning, as the itchy rash that stems from poison ivy isn’t fun and can last for days or even weeks. Unfortunately, even the most diligent of hikers can run afoul of this threat. Because it is so common, it is important to know how to treat poison ivy rashes.

Table of Contents

  • What is Poison Ivy?
  • How to Treat Poison Ivy
  • Home Remedies
  • How to Treat Severe Poison Ivy
  • Using Steroids
  • How to Treat Swollen Eyes from Poison Ivy
  • Poison Ivy Disposal
  • Frequently Asked Questions

What is Poison Ivy?

Poison ivy is a wild plant found throughout much of North America and is quite common in the eastern and midwestern states. It likes partial sunlight, so you’ll often find it at the edges of the forest or in areas that have dappled sunshine. It can grow as a shrub or as a vine.

The leaves grow in sets of three that together form something of a triangle shape. All three leaves grow from the same spot on the branch. The center leaf is usually larger than the other two and the leaves are rarely symmetrical, meaning one side of the leaf isn’t usually identical to the other side.

The plant itself isn’t poisonous, but it secretes a very sticky oil called urushiol. It is that chemical that causes rashes and blisters. Even just a mild touch can leave it on your skin and end up giving you grief. You might not even notice it right away, as the discomfort can take hours, or even days, to surface.

How to Treat Poison Ivy (1)

You need to protect yourself if you’re going to be in an area that has poison ivy. Gloves are essential. You should also wear long sleeves and long pants. The idea here is to avoid having any part of the plant touch bare skin. Further, when you take the clothing off at the end of the day, avoid touching it with bare hands until it has been washed. Shoes or boots should be washed off as well. More than one hiker has inadvertently gotten the oil on their fingers when unlacing a boot, then transferred it to their forehead.

The symptoms of poison ivy include reddened, itchy skin, often with painful blistering. Knowing how to treat poison ivy will go a long way toward providing comfort as well as reducing the risk of the situation getting worse.

How to Treat Poison Ivy

If you find that you’ve touched poison ivy or been in contact with the oily residue, take action as soon as you can. The first step is to wash the area with warm water and dish soap if available. Dish soap is made to handle grease and oil and can help treat urushiol. Lacking dish soap, use whatever soap is available. If you don’t have soap, you can use alcohol wipes. You need to eliminate any trace of the oil, otherwise, you’re just going to continue to make the rash worse.

(Video) Mayo Clinic Minute: How to treat poison ivy rash

As a practical matter, there isn’t a cure for poison ivy rashes. All you’re really able to do is treat the symptoms until the reaction subsides. Which, unfortunately, can take several days to a few weeks, depending upon the severity. Applying calamine lotion and taking oral antihistamines can help reduce itching and blistering. For this reason, both should be in your first aid kit. Some antihistamines, such as Benadryl, can cause drowsiness. These might help you sleep when the itching is keeping you awake.

Home Remedies

There are a few different ways to treat poison ivy at home. The goal is to treat the poison ivy rash and reduce skin irritation. While scratching the itch won’t spread the rash, it can lead to other problems, including injuring the skin and even scarring in some cases.

Here are some options to consider in reducing the itch:

· Aloe vera

· Witch hazel

· Apple cider vinegar

There are some essential oils that might provide relief, such as peppermint, chamomile, or eucalyptus. However, it is important to dilute the oil with some sort of carrier, such as a cream, so as to not damage the skin.

(Video) Kitchen-Pantry Remedies for Poison Ivy

For those who want to know how to treat poison ivy naturally, you can try cool, wet compresses several times a day. Keep the compress on the affected area for 15-30 minutes or so. Soaking in a cool bath with either oatmeal or baking soda can also help with the itching.

How to Treat Poison Ivy (2)

How to Treat Severe Poison Ivy

In most cases, home treatment will be sufficient. However, there are times when medical attention should be sought. Here are signs that you should get to a doctor:

· Pus or yellow scabs on the rash

· Fever over 100°F

· Rash that covers a large portion of the body

· Rash on the face or genitals

· Problems breathing

(Video) How is poison ivy treated?

In severe cases, your doctor may prescribe an oral steroid, such as prednisone.

Using Steroids

Topical steroid creams, such as 1% hydrocortisone which is available over the counter anywhere in the United States, are often minimally effective at reducing itching. In severe cases or situations where the rash covers a substantial percentage of the skin, particularly involving the face or genitals, stronger steroid ointments may be prescribed. That said, oral steroids or injections tend to work better in those cases. In the case of prescriptions, it is very important to follow the instructions and take the medication for the full run. Stopping short can result in the rash coming back.

How to Treat Swollen Eyes from Poison Ivy

Almost everyone has a bad habit of touching their face and rubbing their eyes countless times a day. If you unknowingly get urushiol oil on your hands and touch your face, you’re in for some serious hurt. While it isn’t likely to have any sort of long-term effect on your vision, you should seek medical attention. Your doctor will probably prescribe some form of anti-inflammatory medication to reduce the swelling.

If you know you’ll be handling poison ivy, wear some sort of eye protection. Not only will it prevent a stray leaf from getting to your eye, but it will also be a barrier between your eyes and your gloves.

Poison Ivy Disposal

If you are clearing land and have to deal with poison ivy, it is important to handle it properly. Don’t pile it up and burn it. All that does is put the urushiol oil into the air, where it can travel for miles.

So, what happens if you inhale urushiol oil? It will irritate your nose and throat. That’s bad enough, but it will also cause those airways to swell, narrowing the space and diminishing the amount of air you’re able to get into your lungs. This is a very serious situation and medical help should be sought immediately.

Because the oil persists for so long, you should not compost poison ivy. The best solution is to pull it from the ground and place it into heavy-duty garbage bags. Once the bag is full or you removed all of the plants, seal the bag tightly and put it out with your trash pickup. When pulling the plants, try to get as much of the root as you can, and be sure to clean up all of the leaves from the ground. After the work is done, carefully remove your clothing and wash it to remove the oil from the garments.

(Video) Tips for treating poison ivy

While no one looks forward to having to deal with an itchy rash or blistered skin, knowing how to treat poison ivy will help you to be better prepared, should you or a family member end up crossing paths with it.

Frequently Asked Questions

What dries up poison ivy the fastest?

According to the FDA, over-the-counter corticosteroid preparations, zinc acetate, zinc carbonate, zinc oxide, and calamine lotion will help dry poison ivy rashes. Baking soda and colloidal oatmeal can relieve itching and soothe the skin

How do you stop poison ivy from spreading?

Stopping the spread of poison ivy is all about cleansing your skin of poison ivy oil. If you come in contact with poison ivy, wash your skin thoroughly with soap and cool water as soon as possible.

How long does it take poison ivy to go away?

A poison ivy rash will go away after about one to three weeks. After roughly one week, the rash will start to dry up and clear. Severe cases might last longer.

(Video) How to treat poison ivy Rashes Quickly and Effectively


How to Treat Poison Ivy? ›

The rash, blisters, and itch normally disappear in several weeks without any treatment. You can relieve the itch by: Using wet compresses or soaking in cool water. Applying over-the-counter (OTC) topical corticosteroid preparations or taking prescription oral corticosteroids.

What is the fastest way to cure poison ivy? ›

The following poison ivy remedies may provide relief from symptoms.
  1. Rubbing alcohol. Rubbing alcohol can remove the urushiol oil from the skin and other surfaces. ...
  2. Shower or bathe. ...
  3. Cold compress. ...
  4. Resist scratching the skin. ...
  5. Topical lotions and creams. ...
  6. Oral antihistamines. ...
  7. Oatmeal bath. ...
  8. Bentonite clay.

How do you stop poison ivy from spreading? ›

How to reduce poison ivy from spreading. First and foremost, avoid touching objects where urushiol can be transmitted – and wash your hands right away if you do! You want to remove the oil from your skin as soon as possible.

How long is poison ivy contagious? ›

Good news: poison ivy rashes are not contagious. You will get a rash from poison ivy only if you come into contact with urushiol oil, which is the plant oil in poison ivy that triggers the rash. In addition, a poison ivy rash, even one with open blisters, won't spread to other areas of the body.

What's the best cream for poison ivy? ›

Use calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream.

Will hydrogen peroxide dry up poison ivy? ›

Yes, hydrogen peroxide can help in curing poison ivy rash. It can be formulated as 3% hydrogen peroxide in a spray bottle and sprayed at the affected regions. It should be later allowed to air dry. This can help in treating the symptoms as well as it can dry the rash.

Does rubbing alcohol help poison ivy? ›

Rubbing alcohol removes the urushiol oil from your skin once it's been exposed to poison ivy. You may still experience some discomfort, but the rubbing alcohol significantly reduces symptoms. You should apply rubbing alcohol as soon as possible—within 10 minutes of exposure is ideal.

Does popping poison ivy blisters spread it? ›

The blisters form as part of your body's immune response to poison ivy and oak and are part of the healing process. The fluid from the blisters do not contain urushiol, the oil that causes poison ivy or oak rash, so scratching or breaking a blister will not cause the rash to spread.

Can poison ivy spread after you wash it? ›

Poison ivy isn't contagious and the oil that causes the rash and blisters can be washed off the skin quickly while the reaction lasts for a few weeks. Pets can carry the oil from the plant's sap in on their fur, but the oil typically doesn't transfer from person to person.

What not to do when you have poison ivy? ›

Do not use rubbing alcohol, bleach, or hydrogen peroxide as a treatment for poison ivy. These items will irritate the rash more than soothe symptoms.

How do you shower when you have poison ivy? ›

Essentially, the best practice for washing skin after poison ivy exposure is to use cold water paired with either dish soap or rubbing alcohol.

Should I cover poison ivy when sleeping? ›

When it comes to skin irritation from poison oak or ivy exposure, keeping the affected area uncovered is the best option. The air helps with recovery, allowing your skin to breathe. Treat your condition like you would other ailments, including resting and avoiding unnecessary exposure outside as much as possible.

What day does poison ivy stop spreading? ›

However, in most cases, you can expect the rash to peak within 3-5 days after exposure. After that, the rash will gradually start to improve and should be completely gone within 2-3 weeks.

Why is poison ivy worse at night? ›

There are many reasons why the itching worsens at night. Our body's natural rhythms are known to influence even the skin's functions like fluid retention, blood circulation and temperature. At night, the blood flow and temperature increase make your skin warmer. This may make you want to scratch.

Should you moisturize or dry out poison ivy? ›

Avoid dry skin, which makes the itching caused by the rash worse. Apply a moisturizer or calamine lotion to the skin while it is damp.

Which is better for poison ivy calamine or hydrocortisone? ›

Calamine lotion is particularly helpful at relieving the itching caused by poison ivy. And if you have a very mild rash, then hydrocortisone cream is another excellent option to consider.

What dries up poison ivy rash the fastest? ›

Take a bath: Oatmeal baths and Domeboro® soaks are good home remedies for poison ivy itch, as they can relieve skin irritation. “They're very soothing and can help dry up the rash,” Dr. Ng says.

What is the most aggressive way to get rid of poison ivy? ›

Weeding: Perhaps the most surefire way to eradicate poison ivy is via careful weeding. Wear gloves and long sleeves when you weed, and take note that even dead plants can secrete the urushiol that causes itchy rashes. Dig deep around the plant with a sharp trowel and remove all traces of roots.

What home remedy kills poison ivy on skin? ›

Other natural treatments for poison ivy rash include:
  1. rubbing alcohol.
  2. witch hazel.
  3. baking soda and water paste (3-to-1 ratio)
  4. baking soda bath.
  5. aloe vera gel.
  6. cucumber slices.
  7. cold water compress.
  8. warm colloidal oatmeal bath.
Sep 15, 2021


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