Poison Ivy

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Question

What is poison ivy?

Answer

Poison ivy is a plant that has three leaves on each stem and grows as a vine or bush. As the saying goes "leaves of three, let them be", poison ivy should always be avoided. The leaves, roots, and stems of the plant contain oily chemicals that can cause a severe skin reaction. The oils of the plant are very potent and can be transferred to the skin if your clothing brushes up against the plant, or if you touch something, such as tools or pet fur, that has had contact with poison ivy's oils. Most often, the skin reaction from poison ivy occurs within two days of exposure and includes intense itching, red patches that are either raised or flat, blisters, and swelling.

The best way to help prevent a reaction or lessen its severity is to wash exposed areas promptly with soap and water. A nonprescription lotion known as bentoquatam lotion (Ivy Block®) can actually help prevent a reaction if you apply it before possible exposure. Call your doctor if your reaction is severe; if the skin reaction spreads to the face, eyes, mouth, or genital area; or if you think the blisters are becoming infected.

Alternative therapies for poison ivy

There are alternative therapies for poison ivy, but there aren't any cure-alls for the itching that results from poison ivy exposure. The best "natural" way to help prevent a reaction or lessen its severity is to wash the affected area promptly with soap and water. Several herbal products including an herbal soap have been used to help reduce irritation after poison ivy exposure. Cool baths can also be helpful in soothing pain and irritation especially using oatmeal based soaks such as Aveeno®. Additionally, products that contain aloe vera may help promote healing of areas where scratching has not broken the skin.

Over-the-counter treatments for poison ivy

There are over-the-counter treatments for poison ivy, but the best way to help prevent a reaction or lessen its severity is to wash promptly with soap and water. Over-the-counter products that can help include soothing soaks, such as Aveeno®, and mild steroid creams, such as hydrocortisone (Cortizone-10®). Over-the-counter oral antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl®), can also help relieve itching. Calamine lotion can soothe affected areas and also help dry up any oozing blisters. Menthol creams such as Sarna® may also be used. At the present time, no products are available that can help prevent spreading once the reaction begins. If your reaction begins to spread to your face, mouth, eyes, or genital area, or if your reaction is severe, contact your doctor. Prescription medicines are available to help severe reactions if nonprescription medicines don't provide relief, or if blisters become infected.

Prescription treatments for poison ivy

There are some prescription treatments for poison ivy, but there is rarely any reason to use them. Prescription treatments for poison ivy are usually not needed unless the skin reaction is severe or nonprescription treatments don't work. Steroids in cream or ointment form, like triamcinolone acetonide (Kenalog®), may be prescribed for intense itching or swelling. Other steroids taken in tablet form, such as prednisone, can be prescribed for 7 to 21 days to help lessen severe reactions.

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