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Home Remedies to Treat Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac

By Sarah Densmore

Your skin is aflame with a horribly itchy, red rash. Somehow you lost your footing while you were hiking and managed to get tangled up in a poison sumac shrub. Now you’re paying the uncomfortable price.

Although you’ll have to spend the next two to four weeks waiting for the inflammation to clear up, there are several home remedies you can try to ease your discomfort.

  • Antihistamines: You may find it hard to sleep through the night if your skin is swollen and itching. Although they’re most often taken to ease allergy symptoms such as itchy eyes, taking non-prescription antihistamines (especially the ones that leave you a bit drowsy) may give you itch relief and a better night’s sleep.

  • Calamine lotion: This mainstay of many medicine cabinets is still recommended to relieve skin irritations. It’s sold at drug and discount retailers. Calamine is a runny lotion, so you may find it easier to apply to your rash with a cotton ball or soft wash cloth.

Be sure to shower, launder your clothes, and thoroughly wash any tools, camping equipment, and the like that may have brushed up against the plants. Urushiol, the oil that causes skin irritation, sticks to everything it touches until it’s washed off.

  • Compresses: Applying a cool, wet cloth to your rash several times a day can temporarily relieve inflammation. Keep the compress on for 15 to 30 minutes each time.

  • Cool baths: Soaking in a tepid baking soda or oatmeal bath for several minutes can soothe skin. If you opt for baking soda, just pour one-half cup in the water. If you decide to try an oatmeal soak, you can buy oatmeal-based bath additives at many drug and discount department stores.

  • Hydrocortisone: This anti-itch medication is readily available over the counter at drugstores. Apply it directly to your rash two to four times a day.

Try your hardest not to scratch. Although scratching won’t spread your rash, it can further compound your discomfort by introducing bacteria that could lead to an infection.

Home treatments don’t always relieve poison ivy, oak, and sumac rashes. If your symptoms don’t ease, if your rash spreads, or if you develop a lot of blisters, call your doctor. He’ll be able to check for signs of infection and prescribe stronger, steroid medications to relieve the itching and inflammation.

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