A poison ivy rash usually develops a day or two after exposure to poison ivy plants. The human body is incredibly allergic to an oil contained within called urushiol, which will ooze from the plant if a leaf or stem becomes torn or crushed. This oil travels very easily from plant to person and soaks into the skin quickly.
The rash that then develops is identified by a red and extremely itchy patch on the skin. In time, it will develop blisters filled with clear fluid that leaks out. This fluid will not spread the infection to other parts of the body. The rash can be mild to severe, depending on the intensity of the sufferer's allergic reaction to the plant's toxins. Some extreme cases require hospitalization, but most rashes can be treated at home and will clear up within one or two weeks.
Poison ivy treatment should begin immediately after exposure. If the area of the skin that came into contact with the plant is scrubbed vigorously under water within thirty minutes of exposure, the allergic reaction could be minimized, and even a washing with soap within six hours can help decrease the intensity of the reaction. Alcohol wipes can also remove the offending oils. Clothes and shoes should be immediately removed and washed, as the plant oils cling easily to the material. Hands must be washed thoroughly, under and around the nail, since the poison ivy rash could be spread to other parts of the body from the initial point of contact.
There is no way to immediately banish the poison ivy rash, but there are some poison ivy cures that can relieve itching and speed the recovery process. Since heat aggravates allergic skin reactions, attempts should be made to keep the body cool and unstressed. Cold compresses are an extremely effective way to treat poison ivy rashes. In addition, calamine lotion is a good way to soothe skin and the itchiness that accompanies a reaction to poison ivy. Hydrocortisone cream may prevent itching and blistering from becoming too intense and is often used in poison ivy treatment. Taking an oatmeal bath in lukewarm water (not hot water, since heat exacerbates rashes and will only cause itching to intensify) has often been shown useful to soothe a poison ivy rash.
Since there is no immediate cure, the best poison ivy treatment is prevention. Learning to recognize and avoid the plant is the only way to be certain of avoiding an allergic reaction to its oil. Wearing long pants and long sleeves while in an area that may have poison ivy is another good way to keep from coming into contact with it. Poison ivy rash can also be transferred from a pet to a person, so keeping pets out of overgrown wooded areas and washing them regularly can also minimize risk of contact with the plant.
If the poison ivy rash is severe, near the face or groin, or affects a small child, a doctor should be consulted before beginning treatment. Severe cases may require oral steroid treatments, and some large blisters may need to be drained. If the rash does not clear up within three weeks of trying poison ivy cures, a doctor should be notified.
Scott LeRoy has been studying prescription and OTC medications as well as natural remedies for over a dozen years. He is a regular contributor to Skin Diseases , a section of Skin Site dedicated to conventional and alternative treatments of various conditions.