Poison ivy mostly occurs on exposed areas on the arms, legs, and face. The intensity of the rash can vary based on the person’s sensitivity to the resin, as well as the amount and/or extent of exposure.
There are several ways to treat the rash:
- Wash the skin with soap and water to inactivate and remove the resin. Washing is most effective if it is done within 15 minutes of exposure.
- Cold, wet compresses are effective in the early stages. They should be applied for 15 to 30 minutes several times a day for the first three days.
- Steroid creams or ointments can be helpful in reducing the inflammation and itching. Hydrocortisone can be used on the face; a stronger, prescription-strength steroid may be needed for the arms or legs.
- Oral steroids may be required for severe cases and must be taken for at least a week.
- Short, cool tub baths with colloidal oatmeal can be soothing and can help control inflammation.
- Calamine lotion can help control itching, although excessive use can dry the skin and cause even more inflammation.
- Antihistamines such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) that are sedating may help encourage sleep, but won’t generally help itching. This is because the source of the itching in Rhus dermatitis is not primarily caused by histamine, but by white blood cell (lymphocytes) infiltration into the skin.
- Any exposure to the eyes or eyelids, or the development of a honey-colored crust, should be evaluated by a doctor.