Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac Information Center


Signs of an Emergency
About 15 percent of the 120 million Americans who are allergic to poison oak, poison ivy, and poison sumac are so highly sensitive that they break out in a rash and begin to swell in 4 to 12 hours instead of the normal 24 to 48. Their eyes may swell shut and blisters may erupt on their skin. This is one of the few true emergencies in dermatolgy says William L. Epstein, MD. Get to a hosipital as soon as possible. A shot of corticosteroids will bring the swelling down.

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DMSO Warning

while fliping through your site, I noticed a suggestion to use DMSO (dimethylsulfoxide) for treatment. There was a case back in the eighties in which a woman who had ingested DMSO (it used to be an OTC medication for heartburn or something) was taken to the hospital where she died and took out about half of the small hospital with her. It was later found that DMSO can and did(although it is very rare and diet dependant) react in-vivo (in the body) to eventually form DMSO4 (dimethylsulfate). DMSO4 is a carcinogen, mutagen, and a corrosive (MSDS). The use of DMSO4 is highly regulated by OSHA and cited by ACGIH, DOT, NIOSH, NFPA, NTP, DEP, IARC, HHAG, and the EPA as a "special health hazard" One does not have to inhale DMSO4 in order to die from exposure, DMSO4 can be absorbed through the skin. Even though the DMSO rarely reacts in-vivo to form DMSO4, I urge you to inform your readers of the possibility of such a deadly side-effect. To my knowledge the FDA no longer approves the use of DMSO. Andrew s. Kuhn
--"Andrew s. Kuhn" [email protected] submitted 2/Jul/2001
Editor: Thank you!


Sensitive Skin

I tried a few of the remedies on this site, and my poison ivy only got worse. I went to my doctor and he said that people with sensitive skin have to be very careful about how they treat this. Apparently, people heal when they're good and ready and drying agents don't have much affect other than leaving your skin succeptable to cracking and getting too dry. People have different reactions and the severity varies, so the healing time does as well. Anything you put on it should be for the itch, not to dry it out. I was given a prescription for Prednisone (about a weeks worth) which is an oral steriod since mine was so severe. Anti-itch creams without drying agents and regular washing are the best thing for people with sensitive skin. Covering the rash with a non-stick gauze pad is fine if the seeping is persistant, just as you would cover a blister on your foot. The fluid in the rash is for healing and it doesn't cause the rash to spread, so leave the blisters intact. If you can wash off the oil from the ivy within 20 minutes, use a regular dish soap that cuts grease. After 20 minutes, it bonds with the proteins in your skin and all you can do is keep it clean, cool, and wait for it to heal.
--"Natasha" ([email protected]) submitted 6/Jun/2002
Editor:Well said!


Bleach or Rubbing Alcohol

I have been plagued with poison ivy episodes since I was a kid. Please do not use bleach or rubbing alcohol. Take a hot shower(as hot as possible) and wash areas with wash cloth to break all blisters. Dry very well. Apply Ivy Dry 3 times a day. In approx. 2-3 days gone Good Luck & Don't Scratch
--"Gregg R." ([email protected]) submitted 11/Aug/2002

I read with horror the numerous suggestions to use bleach on a poison ivy blister. I took this advice from someone and boy was I sorry. I used a Q-tip and rubbed clorox bleach on the itchy little bump on my wrist. The next morning I woke up to a wrist full of huge, oozing, blisters. Those blisters grew and thousands of tiny blisters joined the gang and soon I had blisters on my chest, stomach, and thighs. After seeing the dermatologist, he told me it had gotten into my blood stream and spread. It took many weeks of medications and soaking the affected areas before my blisters cleared up. I would not recommend using bleach.
--"C. Gallant" ([email protected]) submitted 6/Jul/2003


Allergy Shots

For anyone who is regularly has allergy shots, do not get your allergy shots. Doing so will cause the rash to spread. I just recently contracted poison ivy and had no idea that this might be a bad idea. While preparing to get my weekly round of allergy shots, I casually metioned to the person who was just seconds away from injecting me the shots that she may want to avoid touching the part of my arm where i'd gotten poison ivy. I was told that it was a very good thing that I mentioned this because allergy shots will only make the condition spread. I Hope this helps any fellow allergy sufferers.
--"Leann Rice" ([email protected]) submitted 29/Aug/2002


Rash Over Much of Body

Currently having poison ivy over 60% of my body, plus an allergic reaction (rash) to Sporanox (an oral medication used to treat athlete's foot) over 99% of my body, I'm recommomending the following: hot baths with 2-4 cups baking soda, hot baths in black caffinated tea - 6-10 tea bags. Black tea soothes my husband's eyes during allergy season. It worked for soothing my athlete's foot, so I tried it for the rashes and it provided about 2 hours of relief. Not long I know, but the baking soda worked as long too, plus left my skin really soft. I'll be trying Aveeno baths too very soon. Maximum Strenth Lanacane (yellow and blue tube) is working well, as is Gold Bond medicated cream. (I'm trying an experiement, one kind on each side, and both seem to be doing well, though the Lancane *stinks* and the Gold Bond has a nice tingle from the menthol in it.) I can't stress enough what another person posted (and which promted me to seek medical attention) - if you have poison ivy over a large part of your body and nothing seems to be working - *go see a doctor.* Not only was/is my poison ivy bad - inflammed, bruised from scratching so much, and keeping me awake all night - but the rash I thought was a second bout of p.i., 'caused perhaps by contaminated shoes, turned out to be an allergic reaction to medication. The extreme tiredness and loss of appetite, which I'd thought was from the poison ivy, turned out to be part of the allergy, not p.i. Anway, I was prescribed Methlpred (a steriod) and Allegra (an allergy medication) which will help both the poison ivy and allergic reaction. I was also told I could take 25 mg. Of Benadryl at night to help me sleep. After only 2 days, the medications do seem to be reducing the inflammations. Sorry for being so long winded. I just really wanted to stress about going to see a doctor if your poison ivy is really bad. It's nothing to be embarrassed about. If you want embarrassing, try also breaking your toe the same day and having to explain to the ER docs which rashes/blemishes are which on your foot, that it's the lovely bruising you're concerned about, and hey, they'd probably want to wear gloves before touching anything. Now *that* is embarrassing ;-)
--"Heidi M." ([email protected]) submitted 4/Oct/2002



Prednisone pills can cause major mental side effects. I am currently suffering badly from poison oak but would rather roll in the stuff than ever take that medicine again. I thought I was losing my mind. My husband will never forget it! Ask your doctor if these effects are likely for you. I'd only suggest it for life-threatening cases, unless you know you're compatible with this medicine.
--"Kate" ([email protected]) submitted 22/Apr/2003

I'd like your readers to know that there is an alternative to oral prednisone that will not cause mental or mood problems. It's called methylprednisolone, or Medrol, and it has none of those side effects. It works perfectly for me on my asthma and now hopefully on my poison ivy.
--"Robin" (no email provided) submitted 23/Apr/2003
Editor Check out this article on methylprednisolone for information, side effects and how it works.

Thanks for your very informative site! After my first ivy outbreak in 30 years, I perused every word in hopes of finding something new. I just wanted to add a note about Prednisone and other steroids in connection with controlling ivy. I was put on Prednisone 3 years ago and it bulked me up really bad. Not so much fat as muscle, but I could not lose the weight. I install wallpaper for a living and climb ladders, carry things, etc. daily. Even though I limited my intake of food for all these three years, I could not lose a pound, gaining even more weight. Finally, after 3 years, the weight just began to roll off so fast that I asked my doctor if something was wrong with me. Answer: the prednisone had finally worked its way out of my system. Thus: use steroids as treatment only as a last resort!
--"kathg" ([email protected]) submitted 20/May/2003



Warning- This is a warning to people with senstive skin. Be aware that Tecnu in abundance can burn your skin, also when you are using drying agents check for alcohol in the ingredients. I have ended up with scars from the "alcohol" burns. I cannot use bleach or the hot water method. For sensitive skin with a severe breakout (face involved, eyes swollen)
  1. Go to the Doctor and get a prednisone shot. Then follow up with 4 days of oral prednisone to wean yourself off the steroid.
  2. Wash anything and everything that came in touch with the poison oak- remeber your pets and the steering wheel , as well as, the computer keyboard.
  3. Aveeno baths. I have to take them cool cause the heat increases swelling. Do these at least three times a day. Use Aveeno soap if you don't have time to soak and need a shower.
  4. Water and Aloe: If you keep yourself and your skin hydrated it will be happy and not itch. I itch when my skin is dry and I scar if I try to dry it out. So I drink lots of water, keep a washcloth with me whenever possible. Soak the washcloth in cool water and apply to whatever area is itchy. Keep it wet.
  5. Straight from the plant . The miracle cure. I carry pieces in my purse so I can apply it anytime I start to itch. The aloe keeps your skin hydrated and also seems to diminish the rash. For an extra treat, store the cut leaves in the fridge .. ahhh coolness.
  6. I also chew on benadryl. I get the childrens chewable so I can take it in smaller doses but more frequently. Be aware not to take more than the max adult dose in a whole day.
Hope this method helps diminish the number of scars to those with sensitve skin.
--"Eleni P." (no email provided) submitted 28/Jun/2003