First Aid for Poison Ivy Sufferers: Prevention and Treatment of Itching and Pain

Since I was about 16 years old, I have gotten poison ivy regularly, and every summer, my reaction has gotten worse. While I used to get a small patch of itchy, painful blisters, over time, my reactions to the plant have become progressively more awful, to the point where a single exposure can result in massive clusters of blisters that throb, ooze pus, get infected and make my life miserable, often leaving scars that last for years. This is a problem for me, as I like to spend time outside, and in our area, poison ivy is everywhere, in parks, by the library, on lining the track I use for walking, and even in my garden.

The two basic treatments for my poison ivy problem that I have used with regularity and success have been calamine lotion, and Domeboro solution. Old-fashioned calamine lotion cools and soothes the painful blisters, but it is problematic in that it is pink, messy when wet, and chalky when dry. Domeboro solution is fabulous for soothing and drying out poison ivy blisters, but it too is messy. If you don’t have a lot of time, or you aren’t able to stay at home for several days until the rash clears up, these things can be a major problem for you. Ideally, to use these products, you would need a day or two completely uninterrupted to alternately soak in a bathtub of Domeboro solution and apply calamine lotion, as both of these are best done in the nude to avoid clothing being soaked or ruined. Most of us are busy people and have forgetten what an “uninterrupted day” looks like. So I have been on a quest for more user-friendly products to help relieve the effects of a poison ivy reaction.

Recently someone pointed me in the direction of a product called Tecnu, which is supposed to help prevent outbreaks as well as help treat them. I decided to try it out, after stupidly slogging through brush that was overrun with poison ivy, and I must say that I am impressed. The instructions on the Tecnu bottle say to vigorously rub it into the skin that was exposed, although for best results they say to apply it to your whole body. The idea is that the chemicals in Tecnu will detach the poison ivy chemicals for your skin, allowing you to rinse them off and preventing them from bonding and causing the blisters. Normally, after my thoughtless trek through the evil weed, I would be covered in blisters and in serious pain. After using Tecnu, this time I only developed 2 small clusters of blisters, and rather than lasting for many painful weeks, these have dried up and stopped hurting in the space of about 7 days. Tecnu can also be used to pre-treat clothing that has been exposed to poison plants, which is wonderful because the plant chemicals are difficult to wash out of clothes, and can cause new outbreaks in someone with sensitive skin. Because I didn’t think to treat my clothes after that first exposure, I am getting an occasional small blister here and there on my arms and legs, but they are nothing like the horrible reactions I used to get.

Another product that has helped me this summer is Caladryl Clear. It is similar to calamine lotion, but not pink, not messy, and doesn’t dry into chalk. This product is intended to temporarily relieve itching associated with poison ivy, oak and sumac, as well as other skin irritations, and also to dry out oozing blisters from the same problems. I definately appreciate my bottle of Caladry Clear, and have used it several times when stray blisters pop up in places I missed with Tecnu. However, the bottle does say “temporary relief”, and the biggest problem with this product is that the relief is entirely too temprorary. It needs to be re-applied many times to keep itching at bay. Still, all things considered, Caladryl Clear is a great help with posion ivy and now has a permanent place in my medicine cupboard (at least until something better comes along).

I am so glad that these products are available. However, the best prevention of poison ivy problems is to use a little wisdom – avoid the stuff, if possible. If you are going to be outside and you know that poison plants are around, cover up, and if you have been exposed, wash thoroughly with soap and cold water.

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