Most of us have been anxiously awaiting the change in season from winter to spring, especially since we have been stuck inside due to the COVID-19. The warmer weather allows for opening windows and spending more time outdoors. Getting fresh air, sunshine and exercise is wonderful for our optimal health. Enjoying nature by engaging in outdoor activities such as walks, hiking and gardening are a welcomed way to spend a day. Spending time outdoors also exposes us to parts of nature that can cause some grief and discomfort. Poison ivy, oak and sumac all have chemical irritants called urushiol oil. Most people are allergic to the oil and when they come in contact with it can develop a blistery, itchy rash. The rash is not contagious nor is it harmful, just uncomfortable. You will break out with a rash wherever you have had contact with the oil. The body part with the greatest exposure to the oil will develop a rash first. Then other body parts with less exposure will break out. This is where people think it is spreading, though it does not spread unless you have direct contact with the oils.
Prevention, by familiarizing yourself with what the plant looks like, is the best remedy. However, if you find that you have been exposed to the plant, here are recommendations for treating the rash.
Cleanse every area of skin that had contact with the plant. Use a wash cloth with soap and water. Another option is to squeeze fresh lemon juice, which can eliminate the harmful oils, on a washcloth and scrub the skin thoroughly, then rinse with water. Make sure to scrub under your nail as well. And don’t forget to wash your clothes in hot water. If your pet was outdoors with you, make sure to wash his coat too.
Cool compresses: soak a soft towel or a cotton tee shirt in cool water and apply to rash for 10-15 minutes 3-4 times a day. You can add equal parts of apple cider vinegar (kills the poison) or baking soda (speeds up recovery) to the water for extra healing properties.
Soak in a tub with water and baking soda or colloidal oatmeal to soothe the skin and help reduce the inflammation.
Apply topically: aloe vera gel, Calendula cream, Witch Hazel or bentonite clay to the rash to reduce symptoms. Lavender, Tea Tree and Peppermint essential oils diluted (if young child, stick with Lavender) can be effective as well.
Anti-Histamines: Oral anti-histamines can be affective at reducing the itch. Natural anti-histamines do not have the risk of side effects as the over the counter products. Herbs such as nettle, chamomile, quercetin and alfalfa can be very effective.
Other natural remedies that can be helpful include rubbing a banana peel or watermelon peel over the rash and do not rinse off. All these remedies should be repeated several times a day.
When to seek medical attention: It can take up to 2 weeks for symptoms to resolve. If the rash does not seem to be improving and looks red and angry, there is any streaking, tenderness or swelling it is best to have it seen by a healthcare provider.