If contact with
poison-ivy occurs, or with an article thought to be contaminated with its oil,
wash the contaminated parts of the body immediately with soap and water. Soap
is necessary to help remove the toxic oily substance from the skin. Lather the
contaminated areas repeatedly and rinse thoroughly between latherings. The
sooner after exposure and the more completely that the oily material can be
removed from the skin by washing, the less likely that a reaction will develop;
and if it does develop, the less severe it is likely to be.
If a rash does
develop, the assumption that it is due to poison-ivy may be erroneous, for the
rash may be due to the presence of a communicable disease, or some more serious
condition. It is best therefore to consult your physician, on the appearance of
The first sign of poisoning by poison-ivy or its relatives, is a dermatitis usually characterized by a light itching, followed by a faint blush on the skin. The itching sensation increases and a few hours to some days later small watery blisters appear. In cases of mild susceptibility these may be no more than shiny dots upon the skin which go no further; in other cases they eventually burst to become irritating, oozing sores which finally dry up, forming scabs. A very severe attack may upset the health completely for a time. Restlessness and raised temperatures may occur, accompanied by severe itching of the affected parts. This may necessitate complete rest in bed.
Numerous treatments have been proposed and used, often indiscriminately and without regard to their exact purpose. Some may be the application of healing agents, others are merely designed to give relief from irritation.
Antihistamines, if taken soon after exposure to poison-ivy and continued for 2 or 3 days, usually help reduce the intensity of the body's reaction. Some of the newer over-the-counter antihistimines are less sedating than others and should be considered where alertness is important.
Once the blisters have formed, avoid scratching or rubbing. Soothing compresses can be very effective in reducing the soreness and itchiness of dermatitis. A simple, readily available compress can be made with equal parts of whole milk and cold water in a bowl with ice cubes. Soak a face cloth, towel or other cloth in the solution, wring it out lightly and apply to the affected areas several times per day for 2 or 3 days. Other solutions for compresses can be made with baking soda or with a commercial product containing aluminum acetate and available under the name "Burosol powder" or "Burow's solution". The powder is sold in individual packets. Mix one packet in 100 mL (5 oz or about half a glass) water to dab on affected areas or in more water for a compress. The solution is mixed 1 part to 10-16 parts water for a compress. Do not use aluminum acetate if the skin is broken or if the blisters are oozing or beginning to form scabs. It must not be used in a bath.
Soothing baths in lukewarm water, with or without additives, will often give relief from the intense itching. The following may be used as additives to the bath water: oatmeal [about 250 ml (1 cup) mixed first in 1 L (1 quart) of cold water and added to the tub of water]; a commercially available oat material, "Aveeno" powder [follow manufacturer's directions but mix the powder first in 1 L (1 quart) of cold water before adding to the warm water in the tub]; or potassium permanganate crystals [5 ml or 5 g (1 tsp) of crystals in a tub of water]. At concentrations stronger than 5 ml (1 tsp) per tub of water, potassium permanganate has a drying effect on the skin. It may cause burns on sensitive skin, and both the crystals and solution may be fatal if taken internally.
Lotions, such as Calamine, may be applied to the affected areas between baths or between applications of compresses. Because some people react to the benadryl in Caladryl lotion, Calamine would be preferable.
Persons with severe local reactions or reactions over a large part of their body should consult a physician for more intense therapy. In instances where a physician prescribes oral or topical medications, these should be continued for the full period as prescribed. If the medication is stopped too early, the rash may rebound.
Clean clothing contaminated by poison-ivy thoroughly and repeatedly wash with soap and water, or dry clean. Take great care in handling contaminated clothing. If the materials will not withstand washing and must be sent to a dry cleaner, wrap them carefully and label conspicuously with "Contaminated by Poison-ivy". The oil of poison-ivy will remain on clothing and footwear for an indefinite period. If this clothing or footwear is subsequently handled or worn by the original wearer or by any other person at a later time, it may give rise to a repeat of dermatitis.