Summer is in full swing here in New England. It’s that time of year when you search for golf balls hit into the brush…when kids and the dog play in the woods…when you garden and hike and go off the beaten path. Yes, it’s that time of year when you suddenly discover a rash and seem to know instantly that somewhere and somehow you wandered into poison ivy.

When the oil from poison ivy touches the skin, most people (about 85 percent) develop an itchy, blistering rash. Although the rash itself is not contagious, the oil can spread to other areas of the body and from person to person if not quickly washed off after touching the plants.

The rash usually lasts one to three weeks. If you are absolutely certain that your rash is due to poison ivy, you may be able to treat the rash at home. Fortunately, the simple steps listed below can help you treat it safely. However, if you have difficulty breathing or swallowing, you experience swelling, or you have many rashes or blisters, go to the emergency room right away.

We have great success treating poison ivy with Zanfel Poison Ivy Wash, which removes urushiol, the oil in poison ivy that binds to the skin and produces the symptoms of itching, redness, and swelling.

We recommend having a supply of Zanfel in your medicine cabinet. It has a 10-year shelf life so there’s no problem stocking it. Zanfel surrounds and removes the toxin from the dermal layers so that the body may immediately begin healing. It works best when applied immediately after exposure. If your rash is not improving in 2 to 3 days, or you think your rash may be infected, make an appointment with us.

At home, here are some tips for treating the rash and easing the itch:
  • Immediately rinse your skin with lukewarm, soapy water. 

If you can rinse your skin immediately after touching poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac, you may be able to rinse off some of the oil. This helps ensure that the oil does not spread to other areas of the body and cause additional rashes.

  • Wash your clothing. 

Thoroughly wash all of the clothes you were wearing when you came into contact with the poisonous plant. The oil can stick to clothing, and if it touches your skin, it can cause another rash.

  • Wash everything that may have the oil on its surface. 

Besides clothing, the oil from poison ivy can stick to many surfaces, including gardening tools, golf clubs, leashes and even a pet’s fur. Be sure to rinse your pet’s fur, and wash tools and other objects with warm, soapy water.

  • Do not scratch, as scratching can cause an infection.
  • Leave blisters alone. 

If blisters open, do not remove the overlying skin, as the skin can protect the raw wound underneath and prevent infection.

  • Take short, lukewarm baths. 

To ease the itch, take short, lukewarm baths in a colloidal oatmeal preparation, which you can buy at your local pharmacy. You can also draw a bath and add one cup of baking soda to the running water. Taking short, cool showers may also help.

  • Consider calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream. 

Apply calamine lotion to skin that itches. If you have a mild case, a hydrocortisone cream or lotion may also help.

  • Apply cool compresses to the itchy skin. 

You can make a cool compress by wetting a clean washcloth with cold water and wringing it out so that it does not drip. Then, apply the cool cloth to the itchy skin.

  • Consider taking antihistamine pills. 

These pills can help reduce itching, however use with caution. You should not apply a topical antihistamine to your skin, as doing so can worsen the rash and the itch.