Column: Treating an itchy encounter with poison ivy

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Commentary by Anthony Russo, BS, PharmD, RPh, pharmacy team leader, Carmel Market District and Olivia Walker, Pharmacy Team Intern for Carmel Market District, Purdue PharmD Candidate 2019

Whether a seasoned outdoorsman or homeowner occasionally brought outside to tame an unruly yard, you’ve most likely encountered poison ivy. It is important to know the facts about this common ailment in order to help prevent reactions and alleviate discomfort.

What causes poison ivy?

Itchy red skin, sometimes accompanied by blisters, is a result of coming in contact with the urushiol oil from the poison ivy plant. This contact can be direct, from touching the plant itself, or indirect, such as urushiol residue that may be transferred from your furry friend. While uncomfortable, the rash itself is not contagious. Those suffering from poison ivy don’t have to worry about spreading it to others or to any other parts of their skin.

So I’m itching. A lot. What do I do?

Head to the Health and Wellness section of the Carmel Market District. Fortunately, there are many over-the-counter options for treatment.

  • Calamine lotion and steroid creams, like hydrocortisone, are topical medications that help reduce itching and redness.
  • For additional relief, apply a damp, cool cloth to the affected area for 30 minutes at a time throughout the day.
  • Resist the urge to scratch. The added irritation and bacteria under fingernails may cause an infection.

Ideally, the best way to treat poison ivy is to familiarize yourself with the look of the plant and, if possible, avoid areas where it’s present.

  • Garments, such as long-sleeved shirts and full-length pants, can prevent urushiol oil from touching your skin.
  • If poison-ivy-gear is too hot, Ivy Block and Vaseline can be applied every four hours to act as a protective barrier on the skin.
  • If contact occurs, immediately wash the site with water and mild soap, taking care to scrub underneath fingernails.
  • Make sure all objects (clothes, gardening tools, pets, etc.) that may contain oil are washed to prevent spread through indirect contact.

It’s important to remember that serious cases, when rashes are present on more than 10 percent of the body or the face, may require prescription medication and should be evaluated by a doctor.

If you think you have poison ivy, stop by your pharmacy. Pharmacists are trained to recognize which cases need further medical attention, and assist in selecting the best over-the-counter medication.


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