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How To Treat Poison Ivy

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What do you do if you have a close encounter with some poison ivy? Dermatologist and author Dr. Doris Day has remedies to treat a poison ivy rash, and help minimize the scratching, scarring and possible infection.

CYNTHIA: Hi, I’m Cynthia Guaba for howdini.com.
Nothing spoils a summer vacation like a close encounter with poison ivy. To show us how to treat poison ivy is dermatologist and author Dr. Doris Day. Welcome.

DORIS: Thank you.

CYNTHIA: Now, does anyone who comes into contact with poison ivy get the rash?

DORIS: No. Only if you are allergic to it will you get the rash. But, you can become allergic to it at any time. So even if you didn’t have an allergic reaction in childhood, it can happen even as an adult.

CYNTHIA: And how do you prevent from getting it?

DORIS: Well the best way to prevent is to know how to identify it. So the plant has a typical three-leaf pattern. The next best way is to wear clothing that will cover the area completely. And then when you take that clothing off, make sure you wash the clothing right away because the resin of the poison ivy plant can last on that material for months.

CYNTHIA: Once you’ve been exposed to the plant, is there anything you can do?

DORIS: Yes, actually if you can get inside within ten minutes, there are actually soaps and wipes that you can use to help wipe the resin off. And you not only want to get it off your skin, but also anything that you are wearing should be washed right away, and if your pet was out with you, they should be wiped down and cleaned as well.

CYNTHIA: And I see you have some other products here, how do these products work?

DORIS: Well these products, you can see that there’s a broad range of types. These work by containing natural oils that help remove the resin that help lift it off the skin. So you do want to get it in early. So you can use generic ones, they’re all pretty much the same. But there's also ones that you can use that are brand name, and some that come in wipes as well. These are cleansing cloths, and those come in handy as well, easier to carry sometimes.

CYNTHIA: I see that you have other products there. What are these good for?

DORIS: Well this is great for after the fact. So once the rash appears and you’re feeling very itchy and uncomfortable, it’s very nice to make a soothing bath that contains some ingredients that you have around the house. So I really like to use oatmeal. I put in about a cup’s worth of oatmeal and I’m good at measuring this out by sight. And then you can add in some whole milk and some honey. Honey is very soothing and its also antiseptic. So you just add in about quarter cup’s worth of honey. And then a little bit of aloe, just about a tablespoon or so of aloe. And then you’ll mix these up so that you have a nice little paste, and you’ll pour this right into your bath water, and you want to use lukewarm to cool water, it's very soothing to the skin. And then you’ll just sit and soak in there for about fifteen to twenty minutes. And you can do this once or twice a day. Okay, and then after you step out of the bath or shower, you can put some 1% hydrocortisone on the areas that are the most itchy. And areas that have little bumps or blisters, that are very moist, using some Caladryl can help dry them out and make them heal a little bit faster. Don’t overuse this and don’t use it in areas that are more dry. I think it's really important to take an antihystamine; I like Benadryl a lot but it can make you drowsy. During the day you can try a non-sedating one. So you can take one in the morning that’s non-sedating, like Claritin or Zyrtec, and then at night you can take Benadryl. And this will help you sleep and it will help calm down the itch. But that’s really important to do. And it can take poison ivy two to three weeks to completely clear.

CYNTHIA: None of these remedies work for a long time. You have to keep reapplying them.

DORIS: That’s correct. That’s why I really like these sprays. There are lots of little things you can get that are anti-itch sprays. And you can even keep them in the refrigerator, and then at night, put it by your bedside so that when you wake up itchy, you can just spritz it. And that way you feel cooler and more comfortable and it prevents scratching. One of the worst things that you can do is scratch because that increases your risk of scarring and also increases your risk of infection. And if these don’t help, if these don’t help make you more comfortable until it clears, then it is really important to see your dermatologist. One, to make sure that you’re treating what you think you’re treating, and two, to try to get the right medicine that will help it clear more quickly and make you more comfortable.

CYNTHIA: Good advice. And will all of these remedies work for, let’s say, babies, teens, adults?

DORIS: For very young children and for infants, I do recommend that you see your dermatologist, just to make sure that they don’t have any legions around their eyes or in their mouth, so they can be treated more appropriately if needed. But for children and young adults, as long as its to a manageable body surface area, where they’re getting enough rest and they’re controlled by these, then I think its reasonable to give it a shot. And if it doesn’t help, it is really important, and really helpful, to see your dermatologist to get prescription-strength medicines to help the rash clear more quickly.

CYNTHIA: Dr. Day, thank you for being with us.

DORIS: Thank you.

CYNTHIA: And I’m Cynthia Guaba for howdini.com

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