As summer starts to wind down and thoughts turn toward autumn schedules, thousands of Americans find their plans disrupted because of a maddening itch that feels like it just won’t quit. According to the Mayo Clinic, however, it will stop, though it can last up to three weeks.
Poison ivy is one of the most common types of contact dermatitis. Some people experience only itching and swelling, but most find themselves looking at small bumps after 12 to 48 hours after exposure to the plant. Blisters follow. In severe cases, new sections of rash might appear several days or even longer after original exposure to the plant.
The offending chemical that causes so much discomfort is an oily resin known as urushiol. It’s also found in poison oak and poison sumac.
Treatment for poison ivy usually involves self-care to get relief from the itching until the whole episode ends. Many people have been able to soothe itching by using high-potency over-the-counter creams containing hydrocortisone. They’re especially effective during the first few days of the outbreak. Other useful over-the-counter remedies include calamine lotion and creams such as Sarna that contain menthol.
Many sufferers find that taking oral antihistamines like diphenhydramaine (think Benadryl) makes them more comfortable. These drugs also offer the advantage of helping those afflicted with poison ivy to sleep better.
Opinion differs as to how water can make life less miserable for someone suffering from this condition. Some individuals advocate bathtub soaks in cool water combined with an over-the-counter colloidal oatmeal such as the Aveeno brand. Others, however, swear that subjecting themselves to the hottest water they could stand stopped their awful itching for a couple of hours.
While most cases of poison ivy aren’t considered medically serious and can be successfully treated at home, there are exceptions. You should see your doctor if any of the following occur.
1. Your reaction to the plan is either severe or widespread.
2. The rash affects certain sensitive areas of your body. These include the eyes, mouth and genital area.
3. The blisters appear to be oozing pus.
4. Your fever climbs to a number more than 100 degrees F (37.8 C).
5. A few weeks have passed, but the rash isn’t any better.
In severe cases of poison ivy, physicians are likely to prescribe an oral corticosteroid such as prednisone. If scratching the rash results in a secondary bacterial infection, this is one possible reason pus is oozing from skin blisters. The treatment for this type of infection is usually a course of antibiotics.