The Dos & Don’ts of Treating Poison Ivy Rashes

If you spent some time outside and came in with a poison ivy rash, you're probably uncomfortable, itchy, and a bit embarrassed to be seen in public. As long as the poison ivy rash is not covering the majority of your body and is not present on very sensitive parts such as your eyelids or genitals, you should be able to at least start by treating the rash at home. Follow these dos and don'ts as you treat your rash.

Do wash yourself well to keep the rash from spreading any further.

If someone comes into contact with poison ivy but washes the plant oils away quickly, the rash may be less severe or perhaps not even appear at all. Even though you already have the rash, you should still wash well to ensure that any oils that are left on your skin do not spread out further and cause the rash to become larger.

Take a shower, not a bath, so that any oils you rinse off of yourself go right down the drain. Use a mild soap—not a scented body wash that may irritate your rash—and work it into a rich lather before washing it away with water. Lathering and rinsing 2 or 3 times is a good idea.

Do soak in an oatmeal bath once a day.

Oatmeal is wonderful for soothing the itching of a poison ivy rash. You can use a pre-made oatmeal bath mixture and add it to your bath water, or make your own by putting a few cups of oats in a blender and processing them until they're very finely ground. Soak for as long as you wish, and repeat this oatmeal bath treatment daily until your rash clears.

Do use a hydrocortisone cream to treat your rash.

Hydrocortisone is a topical corticosteriod that will help your body heal the rash faster. It will also stop some of the itching. Find one of these creams over-the-counter at your drugstore, and use it according to the directions on the package. If someone you know has leftover prescription hydrocortisone cream, do not use it. Prescription-strength hydrocortisone creams are stronger and are not suited for everyone. If you feel your over-the-counter cream is not helping clear your infection, contact dermatology services or your doctor; they can prescribe a safe and effective treatment for you.

Don't use a diphendydramine cream.

These creams are sold over-the-counter for the treatment of bug bites and minor allergies, but using them for poison ivy rashes is not a good idea. Sometimes, these creams can cause their own negative reactions, and it will be difficult for you to tell if you're having such a reaction if your skin is already dotted with a poison ivy rash.

Don't scratch or pick at the rash.

Contrary to popular belief, poison ivy will not spread if you pick or scratch at it. However, picking and scratching can have other unwanted consequences. First, it puts you at risk for developing a bacterial infection—your skin is vulnerable, and there are always bacteria on your hands ready to infect vulnerable skin. Second, scratching increases your chances of having permanent scarring from your rash. When you just can't stand the itch, take an oatmeal bath, put on some more hydrocortisone cream, or hold a cold compress against your rash. Just don't scratch.

If you follow the tips above, you should find that your poison ivy rash clears up within a week or two. If your symptoms appear to be getting worse or you have concerning symptoms such as a fever or wheezing, don't hesitate to contact your physician. These could be signs of a more serious allergic reaction to poison ivy that warrants treatment with oral steroids or antihistamines.