WellSpan Home

Poison Ivy, Oak, or Sumac: Relieving the Itch

Topic Overview

A rash caused by poison ivy, oak, or sumac may itch and produce blisters. Try the following suggestions and medicines to help relieve these symptoms.

General suggestions

  • Although the rash does not spread through blister fluid, try not to scratch blisters. Scratching may cause a bacterial infection.
  • Apply wet compresses or soak the area in cool water for 15 to 30 minutes several times a day. Do this for 1 to 4 days until the itching and blistering improve. Compresses or soaking water may include:
    • Baking soda. Add baking soda to water to make a solution for a wet compress, or mix it with water into a paste and then apply the paste to the rash.
    • Vinegar mixed with water.
  • Take short, cool baths with or without an oatmeal additive (such as Aveeno).
  • Use as little soap as possible. Use gentle soaps, such as Basis, Cetaphil, Dove, or Oil of Olay. Avoid deodorant soaps when you have the rash.
  • Avoid dry skin, which makes the itching caused by the rash worse. Apply a moisturizer or calamine lotion to the skin while it is damp. Watch closely for excessive drying, which may occur when calamine lotion is used for an extended period. For more information, see the topic Dry Skin and Itching.

Medicine

Medicines that relieve itching include:

  • Over-the-counter antihistamines, such as a nondrowsy one like loratadine (Claritin) or one that may make you sleepy like diphenhydramine (Benadryl), and prescription antihistamine pills such as hydroxyzine (Vistaril). Talk to your doctor before you use these medicines. And do not drive while taking them. The form of Benadryl you spread on your skin may cause another allergic reaction and should not be used.
  • Over-the-counter hydrocortisone products, such as Cortaid, Caldecort, or Lanacort, that you spread on your skin. These products should only be used in mild cases, usually after the affected area has been soaked in water or a compress has been applied. Although safe, these products are not recommended for treating poison ivy, oak, or sumac rash, because they are not strong enough and may not be used long enough to be effective. They may seem to work for a while, but the rash often suddenly flares up again, sometimes worse than before.

Medicines that dry out oozing blisters include:

  • Aluminum hydroxide gel.
  • Kaolin.
  • Zinc acetate, zinc carbonate, or zinc oxide.

If you have a severe rash from poison ivy, oak, or sumac, talk to your doctor. You may need prescription corticosteroids.

Do NOT use the following medicines. They may increase sensitization and/or cause more skin problems:

  • Antihistamines applied to the skin, such as diphenhydramine (found in Benadryl cream, spray, or gel). The oral form of Benadryl may be helpful.
  • Anesthetics containing benzocaine (such as Lanacane) that are applied to the skin.

Related Information

Credits

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerWilliam H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerMartin J. Gabica, MD - Family Medicine

Current as ofOctober 5, 2017


Are you sure you would like to cancel?

All information will be lost.

Yes No ×

About the provider search

This search will provide you with WellSpan Medical Group and Northern Lancaster County (Ephrata) Medical Group primary care physicians and specialists. If we don’t have a WellSpan Medical Group physician to meet your criteria, the search will expand to include community physicians who partner with WellSpan Medical Group physicians through the WellSpan Provider Network or provide care to patients on the Medical Staffs of WellSpan’s Hospitals.

×

Schedule Your Next Appointment Online with MyWellSpan

Use your MyWellSpan patient portal any time to view available appointments, and pick the date and time that best suits your schedule.

Go to MyWellSpan

New to this practice?

If you don't have a WellSpan primary care provider and would like to schedule a new patient appointment with a provider who is accepting patients, just log into your MyWellSpan account, and go to the Appointment Center section. As you progress through the scheduling process, you will be able to see the offices that are accepting new patients in relation to your zip code. If you are not enrolled in MyWellSpan, go to https://my.wellspan.org, call 1-866-638-1842 or speak with a member of the staff at a participating facility to sign up. New patient scheduling not available at all practices/programs.

Already a patient at this practice?

If you already have a relationship with a WellSpan practice, simply log into your account, and go to the Appointment Center section. As you progress through the scheduling process, you will be able to schedule an appointment with any provider or practice that already counts you as a patient. Online scheduling varies by practice/program.

×