Monday, September 10, 2012

Tips & Tricks #2: Poison Ivy First Aid Kit

Did you know - 15-30% of the population has no allergic reaction to the 'poison' found in poison ivy?

Lucky dogs.

I'm not one of the chosen few - I've joked that if I can just see the ivy vine, I'm gonna get the rash.  I've battled with poison ivy/oak/sumac through my entire life and can even recall getting a poison oak rash so badly on my face that my classmates called me ScarFace (It was sixth grade, after all.  And kids are mean at that age.)

After a pretty nasty bout of it this summer from pulling branches down on the dam at Mom's, and then loving on Diesel after he inadvertently ran through it out in the country at Dad's, I've decided that I'll be prepared the next time (and God willing, there won't be a next time) I encounter this horrid plant.

Before I list out what I've put together as my "after exposure" kit, let me preface by saying: Avoidance is the best medicine! Urushiol is the culprit - this oil can survive and still be toxic up to 6 months after contact. So, learn what poison ivy looks like, be cautious if you're camping or hiking near it and your pet runs through it.  If you have come into contact with it - bag the clothes you were wearing (shoes, too) and wash them in hot water when you get home - trying not to touch them again. 

Remember: Leaves of Three, Let it Be!


Here's what I've put together as a supplement to my basic first aid kit - being very specific to the things that have worked for me and need to minimize the impact of the urushiol once I've been exposed.

The most important thing for me after exposure is to remove as much of the plant oil, as quickly and efficiently as possible.  tecnu was something we discovered early on in my life, and its been the most effective soap/wash at removing the oils from the initial contact.  If I even think that I've been exposed, I'll wash with this.  This product is also pet safe.  4oz for $7

Next up, towels.  Coleman has super small towel 'tablets' that expand once they've come into contact with water. That's a 14' x 7' towel compressed to about the size of a really thick dime!  My plan is to use these as I'm washing out the tecnu and oils, and then toss the washcloths afterward. I've got 2 of them stored in a toothbrush cover (that came with the kit you'll see later) 10 in a tube for $3

So, after removing and bagging any clothes you were wearing, washing and cleaning the exposed area, and washing the offending oil-carrying-tail-wagger - you've done all you can to minimize the possible rash. Now, you wait. And hope.  And pray that you either 1) aren't allergic, or 2) will only get a small rash.  The rest of my kit will come into use if I find myself out camping and the rash has started (which for me, takes less than 2 hours from first exposure).

My plan of attack is two-fold - internal and external.  Internally,  I'm a fan of the generic version of Benedryl. Good news, it blocks the signals that the nerves are sending that say: "your arm is the enemy, and should be scratched to death."  Bad news, it makes me drowsy.  Come to think of it, that may be a good thing, because if I can get to sleep, then I don't get that desperate need to SCRATCH!  24 caps for $2

Externally, I've got a few different choices in my arsenal. First up, the traditional anti-itch stuff. I'm not brand specific on these - the pink stuff works, the generic stuff works, this time I picked up the Calagel because it came with a 2oz sample of tecnu, which I was planning to buy anyway.  My travel kit came with a 3oz squeeze bottle, and I transferred some into it for my kit.  6oz for $5

If I want a break from the gooey-ness of the Calagel, I switch over to a generic of Cortisone 10 (are you seeing a 'generic' pattern here?).  Cotton balls are a part of the kit as well - for both of the previous medications.  Just be careful as you're taking pictures of your kit - come to find out, Diesel thinks cotton balls make for really chewing treats.  1oz for $3, cotton balls from a supply I already had.

Diesel back there "helping" me with this post.

Third option - hydrogen peroxide.  I came across this one the last time ran into poison ivy. It works both as a wash (if I don't have tecnu) and as an anti-infection and drying agent.  I scratch.  I admit - there are moments when regardless of how strong I think I am, the overwhelming desire to do something about the incessant itch consumes me.  I try counter that with the use of hydrogen peroxide - on the off chance that I've got something infection-causing under my nails, I want to keep the wound I'm creating as clean as possible.  As a second benefit, peroxide has a drying effect.  I've found that poison ivy rash has three phases: itch, ooze, and ache.  You know you've got it bad when the rash oozes.  The spray bottle came from the travel kit I picked up ($4) and the peroxide I already had.

It's not much to look at, but it's probably the best ~$15 I've spent getting ready for the next camping season.  It'll live in the 'pup and I hope to never need to use it.  But, as my Eagle Scout Dad taught me, it's best to be prepared.

BTW (this part gets a little gross, skip to the 'final note' if you're squeamish) - If you've come across this post because you are currently suffering though a poison ivy rash, I have one more golden nugget for you: hot, almost way-too-hot, hot water. As hot as you can stand it, hot water.  I discovered this the last time I had a reaction - and a really bad reaction it was: oozing, red, swollen, all over my elbow and forearm, and partially on my face (what's up with that!).  If you have a sprayer/detached shower head, turn the water to as hot as you can stand and spray the rash area.  Do not believe the common myth that you'll just spread the rash. (Learn more here.) The oozing is your body producing blisters to fight off the destruction caused by the original contact with urushiol.  If you're at 'ooze phase' you're well beyond the initial contact.  During the worst of my 'ooze,' I would shower in the morning around 7am, spray my arm and face with very hot water, and then have relief from the itching until about 2pm, at which point I wanted to bite my arm off. It worked for me even while camping (think: coffee pot of hot water, arm held over a bowl, and using a washcloth).  This is by no means medical advice.  Gotta say that because I don't want you to come back and sue me if you have a severe ivy rash and you scald yourself trying to stop the itch.  Because when the ivy has you, you'll try anything for relief!

One final note: you know how 15% of the population doesn't have to go through all this? Guess who's part of that group?

Yep, RDB is immune.



  1. Thanks for the share! Nothing worse then getting poison ivy when you are out camping! In adition to what you have listed above I would also make sure to have some bandages on hand to cover up the infected area. I normally use the brand mepilex since it has strong adhesive which prevents it from coming off when I am swimming, hiking, or biking.

    1. You can use a bandage if you wish, but the rash does need to breathe to help it dry out. Faster the rash drys, quicker the healing time. Note this is for poison ivy/oak wounds only! There is however, and old myth that keeping an infected wound uncovered will help it heal faster. This MAY OR MAY NOT be true and should rely on your physician's advice only.

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  3. i,m at the oozing blisters stage on my arms, i,ve just scratched the hell out of it,then put arms in relly hot water which felt amazing,dabbed dry a bit then poured hydrogen peroxide on both arms,fizzed for a bit then wait for it, dabbed rubbing alcohol on both arms,now that stung,when that dried,i covered in calamine lotion,to a benadryl and i,m here typing this...had to do something the itching was driving me nuts...

  4. Thanks for the help, I hate poison oak!

  5. I'm like 90% immune to poison ivy... After about 14 hours of running around in the stuff I had a couple small blisters form. I just wash the area, squeeze the pus out and clean the hole with hydrogen peroxide. Gets rid of the itch, the blister, and it doesn't reform. It also seems to heal quicker. I wouldn't recommend doing it multiple times on the same area if it doesn't work but just something I do that seems to work for me!

  6. I had to get a steroid shot for it cause nothing would help. Before everything did help like peroxide and rubbing alcohol but not this time lol

  7. Wish you had posted pics of your face! I too, have had it real bad on my face. Took multiple doctors visits to treat and had to get steroid shots. During my time with the Marines,we would use gasoline or even diesel to help dry it out. Just make sure to wipe it off immediately after applying it, as the drying effect happens rather quickly. Also the main ingredient in the poison ivy wash is mineral spirits and soap. Hence why the gasoline actually works. At home I would use rubbing alcohol or mineral spirits from the garage and it worked great. Nows the time to use your old predisone prescription if you still have any old pills laying around. Consult your phsycian first of course. ALWAYS! :)