WHAT TO DO IF YOU BELIEVE YOU'VE GOTTEN INTO POISON IVY

Poison ivy tends to grow amongst other plants, which makes it especially difficult to spot sometimes. Here it is with a raspberry bush and some other plants.

OK, so you've just gotten the perfect picture of a wildflower. You stand up, look down, and realize you were just kneeling next to poison ivy. Did your arm brush into in? Did your camera strap touch it? Did you accidentally kneel IN it instead of NEXT to it?!?!

Do not panic! There are things you can do!

If you think you have come in contact with poison ivy or an item contaminated with the poison ivy oil, the best thing you can do is wash with soap and cool or cold water as soon as possible (hot water can open your pores and let the oil in). Remember that it's the urushiol oil that causes the rash and irritation, so the goal is to get it off of your skin effectively and as soon as possible. If you can get the oil off in under 10 minutes, you may be able to prevent the rash. The sooner you can remove the oil, the better.

There's some disagreement about what kind of soap to use. Some say regular soap is ok to use, but others say that soaps that contain oils (such as moisturizing soaps) might just spread the urushiol oil around on you. I prefer Dawn dishwashing liquid since it has the ability to dissolve grease. I don't spread it on thin, either, I really lay it on thick and wash my suspected area of exposure several times. 

If you're at home, this procedure is easy. But, if you're outdoors with no sink in sight, that's another story. Since this website is devoted to photography in the great outdoors, here are some first response ideas for contact when you're not at home: 

  • Rubbing alcohol can dissolve the oil on the skin. I carry rubbing alcohol pads in my first aid kit that can double for poison ivy duty. The higher the concentration of alcohol, the better. Be sure to follow up with washing the area as soon as possible.

  • Carry Dawn dishwashing liquid (or any grease-removing dish detergent) with you. I put it in an empty film canister when I go on photo shoots and when I am camping. Of course, you'll also need water to complete the washing, so I carry some of that, too.  A product called Technu is also supposed to be good for oil removal, but I have never tried it out. 

  • A product called IvyBlock is supposed to prevent problems with urushiol when applied per the directions. I have never tried this method, but supposedly it will help protect the skin from the oil in case it gets on you.  

  • If possible, remove contaminated clothing as soon as it's convenient or at least try to arrange the clothing so it does not come in further contact with your skin. (Of course, if you're walking through a field with lots of possible ivy contact, having your clothing between you and ivy will be better than bare skin. Just be prepared to wash your pants in Dawn later.) If your camera strap got into it, take it off of your camera. I put anything contaminated in plastic bags so I can wash it all in Dawn later.

  • Carry a homeopathic remedy called Rhus Tox and start taking it (follow the directions on the bottle) the minute you notice a rash or even sooner if you think you got into ivy. It's really cheap, comes in a small container, and my friends swear this stuff works. I carry it everywhere but I've never had a chance to field test it. :)  Carry Benadryl or a similar histamine blocker in case the rash starts later, but try Rhus Tox first because it won't knock you out like Benadryl. 

  • Rubbing crushed Jewelweed leaves or the pulp from Jewelweed stems on the area is supposed to be very helpful, especially if done very soon after coming in contact with poison ivy. Interestingly, Jewelweed always seems to grow near ivy. Jewelweed has a beautiful orange flower on it when it blooms, but the photo below is just of the leaves. 

  • Both broadleaf (common) or narrow leafed plantain leaves are also supposed to be very helpful - just grab a few leaves and crush them or chew them up a little, then apply to the area. Plantain grows just about everywhere. As a bonus, it's edible and helps with bee stings and other insect bites. 

    I have not had a chance to field test the effectiveness of Jewelweed or plantain on poison ivy, but I know they both work well on mosquito bites. 

 

Jewelweed
      
 Broadleaf (Common) Plantain Narrow Leaf Plantain

Of course, avoidance is the best remedy! You can always remember these sayings: 

  • “Leaves of 3, Let it be!”

  • "Berries white, run in fright"

  •  “If it’s hairy… it’s scary!” (Refers to the vines... that's my personal favorite)

I HAVE THE RASH.... NOW WHAT?!?!

First of all, if you're having severe allergic reactions, go see a medical professional. If not, there are tons of suggestions on the internet. Here are a few:

  • First, make CERTAIN the oil is washed off of your skin in the shower before soaking in a bathtub. If not, the oil may release into the bathwater and re-attach itself to you when you're getting out of the tub

  • Use a cold, wet compress to ease itching

  • Add about 5 cups ground oatmeal or baking soda to a cool bath and soak for 15 to 30 minutes

  • Add baking soda or Epsom salts to your bath or make a paste of either and apply it to the rash. Get a lotion containing calamine, alcohol and zinc acetate since these will dry the blisters and help speed the healing process.

  • Use  an antihistamine such as Benadryl. 

  • Jewelweed and plantain (as mentioned above) might also help.

  • Rubbing alcohol seems to dry out the weepiness of the rash.

I have not tried any of the above since  it's been so long since I've gotten into ivy. However, I can tell you what I or my friends have had work:  

Very helpful: Rhus Tox
This is a homeopathic remedy for poison ivy, oak and sumac rashes. My friend Kat swears by this stuff. She said she'd gotten a small area of the rash and started using Rhus Tox and it went away within 12 hours. I don't know how effective it would be on large rashes, but it's cheap and easy to take and worth a try. I order mine from www.iherb.com. They offer very good natural remedies inexpensively and they ship very quickly. 

Helpful: Benadryl Anti-Itch Cooling Gel For Kids (similar to what was "Rhuli" Gel) 
I used Rhuli in the early 90's when I got into ivy and it was very effective. But, Rhuli was bought out by Band Aid and then just disappeared off the market. The closest thing I've found with similar ingredients is "Benadryl Anti-Itch Cooling Gel For Kids", however, I've heard it is not as effective. I've had good luck with it on bug bites. It has similar ingredients to Rhuli (camphor, menthol, and alcohol) which help to control the itch and help dry out the rash, but I'm still aggravated that Rhuli is off the market. 

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