From rash to relief: Soothe poison ivy with these natural solutions

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poison-ivy(NaturalHealth365) “Leaves of three, let it be.” Over the years, this simple rhyme has protected countless hikers, campers, and gardeners from the itchy misery that follows exposure to poison ivy.  Yet, despite the best advice, over 350,000 Americans a year end up coming into contact with this poisonous plant – and developing an uncomfortable allergic reaction as a result.

If you’ve had a recent run-in with poison ivy – indicated by an itchy red rash and weeping, oozing blisters – take heart.  Relief may soon be at hand thanks to a trio of soothing natural remedies.  Let’s look at some evidence-based ways to relieve discomfort from poison ivy – and to avoid it in the future.

Colloidal oatmeal can ease poison ivy rash by creating a soothing barrier on skin

Rich in beneficial beta-glucans, flavonoids, and polysaccharides, oatmeal has proven abilities to moisturize, soothe, cleanse, and protect inflamed skin.  Many holistic practitioners advise colloidal oatmeal baths to alleviate itch and reduce inflammation and swelling.  Colloidal oatmeal acts as a buffering agent that can help ease rashes by lowering skin pH to normal levels, making it particularly appropriate for poison ivy.

Noted dermatologist Pamela Ng, M.D., confirms that oatmeal baths can help to “dry up” the rash that accompanies poison ivy.  Dr. Ng adds that colloidal oatmeal is finely ground, so it won’t sink to the bottom of the bath but will instead disperse in the water and coat the skin.  To use, simply add a cup of colloidal oatmeal to a warm (not hot!) bath and soak for 15 to 20 minutes.  Depending on your preference, oatmeal can be used in a cool bath as well.

Harness the soothing power of aloe vera gel for poison ivy relief

Aloe vera gel has been used for centuries to calm inflamed, irritated skin.  In an influential study published in the Journal of the Pakistan Medical Association, researchers found that aloe vera gel was more effective than a silver sulfadiazine cream in relieving the pain from superficial burns.  While you can buy topical aloe vera creams and ointments, it can be very satisfying to make and use your own natural remedy straight from the plant.

Choose healthy outer leaves from a mature aloe vera plant and snip them close to the stem.  (To avoid stressing the plant, don’t take too many leaves).  After washing and drying the leaves, trim off the spiky edges with a knife and then use your fingers to scoop out the gel.  (The yellow sap, or latex, can be allowed to drain away).  Chill the gel in the refrigerator and apply several times a day.  Allergies to aloe vera have been reported, so perform a patch test before using aloe vera gel.  Don’t use aloe if you are allergic to garlic, onions, or tulips.

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Witch hazel’s tannins and gallic acids conquer irritation

Witch hazel – one of the very few plants approved by the Food and Drug Administration for over-the-counter use – has been clinically shown to reduce skin inflammation and irritation.  Derived from the leaves and bark of the witch hazel shrub (botanically known as Hamamelia virginiana), witch hazel contains tannins and gallic acids that are well suited to battling poison ivy misery.

These compounds have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, astringent, and antibacterial effects that can help prevent infection and decrease itching and swelling.  For maximum benefit, chill witch hazel in the refrigerator before use.  Then, simply swipe it over affected areas several times a day with a cotton ball.  Before using witch hazel, perform a “patch test” on a small area to make sure you’re not allergic.

Guarding against poison ivy: Strategies for avoiding contact

Poison ivy can appear as a vine or a shrub, with glossy leaves that may be either smooth or notched.  The leaves are greenish red in spring, green in summer, and red, scarlet, yellow, or orange in the fall.

Important: If your rash is widespread and severe (covering more than 25 percent of your body) or if it affects your eyes, mouth, or genitals, call your doctor.  If you are experiencing a severe allergic reaction that causes difficulty in breathing, call 911 immediately.

Obviously, the first rule in avoiding poison ivy exposure is not to let it touch your skin.  And don’t touch tools that have been in contact with poison ivy.  Urushiol, the itch-inducing oil in the plant, can remain on surfaces for up to five years.  It can also “hitch a ride” on family pets (although they usually remain unaffected) and even spread through the air when poison ivy plants are burned.  The Centers for Disease Control notes that exposure to smoke from poison ivy can cause severe allergic respiratory reactions.  If you have no choice but to be around it, it’s important to wear a NIOSH-certified half-face piece particulate respirator that is rated R-95, P-95, or better.

If you’ve realized too late that the inoffensive-looking weed that you’ve been pulling up is poison ivy, there are steps you can take to lessen the impact of the oil and the severity of the reaction.  Rinse your skin well with water and rubbing alcohol or dishwashing detergent.  Launder clothes using the hot water cycle and wipe down tools with rubbing alcohol and plenty of water.  (Wear thick vinyl gloves for these tasks, as Cleveland Clinic notes that the urushiol oil can penetrate surgical-style gloves).  And, if you know that a pet has wandered through a poison ivy patch, bathe and shampoo them before enjoying cuddles.

Not-so-fun fact: Between 15 and 25 percent of people have no reaction to urushiol.  The rest of us will experience significant skin rashes, however.

While the best remedy for poison ivy is time, these remedies can make life a little more bearable while you wait for nature to take its course.  And remember: “Leaves of three!”

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