Gonna need an ocean…of calamine lotion
April 25, 2011 9:24 AM   Subscribe

Three weeks ago, I was exposed to poison ivy, and it wound up going systemic on me. I am going to be placing myself at risk of exposure again, and need to limit the damage. There is a product called Oral Ivy that has been recommended to me as a preventative. I have questions.

The website for oral ivy touts it as "homeopathic," which sets off my bullshit alert, but I know that some products are "fake homeopathic" (that is, they might actually be effective). I'd like to know if anyone has experience with this stuff or any other preventatives that they can recommend.

Obviously I will take all due care to avoid direct exposure, but it is pervasive in an environment where I'm going to be spending about a week. I returned to that environment this past weekend, and despite having controlled the initial outbreak with prednisone (something else I really don't want to repeat) I broke out in rashes within 12 hours, without touching anything suspect. It was as if merely being near the stuff was enough to trigger a flare-up.
posted by adamrice to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I haven't used Oral Ivy but I do have systemic reactions to poison ivy. I also have really bad asthma and have had more than my fair share of steroid treatments and my doctor likes to limit their use as much as he can (as we all like my liver working well, thank you).

I've had really good luck with using the special soaps that help wash away urushiol. They're only used after exposure, clearly, but they really do work. The best one for me is Zanfanel. I know there are also protective barrier creams out there but I haven't used them. Even if I did and they worked, I'd still use Zanfanel because the urushiol gets on your clothes and then when you undress, you get the oil on your skin.
posted by cooker girl at 9:41 AM on April 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

My condolences. I had systemic poison ivy as a young teenager, and was not only covered over every inch of my body, but also the insides of eyelids, eyeballs, mouth and lips... the whole thing. I was only able to function with cortisone shots as administered by my doctor. I wanted to die.

My doctor gave me honest advice on how to truly prevent poison ivy: You must prevent the oils (urushiol) from any contact with your skin or mucous membranes. Which is pretty close to impossible, especially if it's aerosolized in the air.

But you can try: long shirt and pants, gloves if possible, and a barrier-lotion on all exposed skin you can stand it on. Vaseline works fine. Then, when undressing, use latex gloves to protect your hands, remove clothing using the inside-out method (peel it off of you, so no outside parts of the clothing ever touches your skin), and put clothing in plastic bags if you must wait before laundering. You can remove the barrier cream from your body using a spatula, remove the cream straight into the trash, tie it off, and throw away immediately.

Oral Ivy will not help you. Nothing internal will help you prevent poison ivy because it is an oil that irritates the skin and mucous membranes. Once you already have poison ivy, some oral antihistamines will help your body react less to it. But nothing except barrier will prevent it.
posted by juniperesque at 9:43 AM on April 25, 2011

Oral Ivy is made from extracted Poison Ivy leaves. If it ISN'T in homeopathic concentrations, and you are as sensitive to Poison Ivy as you say, then it seems to me (not a doctor) that it would NOT be safe for you to take it!
posted by muddgirl at 9:45 AM on April 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't know what might help with a systematic reaction, but for skin exposure I can recommend Technu lotion. When I was in the Army I spend lots of time in the woods with poison oak and ivy, and had no chance to bathe or change my clothes for weeks on end. I used to get the rash all around my legs from the top of my boots to the bottom of my underwear, which sucked. After once or twice of this, I would put the Technu lotion on in large amounts every day and just leave it there. It seemed to neutralize the urishol that got on my clothes.
posted by procrastination at 9:49 AM on April 25, 2011

Response by poster: For whatever it's worth, I used Tecnu immediately after I was exposed, and Zanfel once the rash materialized three days later. Neither seemed to be very effective.
posted by adamrice at 9:56 AM on April 25, 2011

I've never tried Oral Ivy. I do know people who tried the "eating tiny leaves" approach to desensitizaiton but none of them were as hair-trigger allergic as I am (and sounds like you are) so I'm way too cautious to try that myself. Something like Oral Ivy I'd vacillate back and forth between assuming it's homopathic and nothing but water, and being terrified that there was actually something in it and I'd have a horrendous reaction to it. A no-win situation of the psyche. But you asked for information not opinion, and I've got nothing.

Except for Tecnu. That stuff is awesome. Some people say that a fels-naptha soap or a grease-cutting dish detergent (i.e. Dawn, etc) is as effective at removing the oils as Tecnu is at neutralizing them, but the benefit of Tecnu is just smearing it on regularly as opposed to having to wash with water. I'd say Tecnu for all exposed skin, and wash/wipe every item (tools, clothing, shoes, etc) or be prepared to wash your hands after every time you touch it - secondary exposure is no joke. Also, be sure to cover any open wounds - even mosquito bites or faint briar scratches have often been the first thing to blister up on me, demonstrating that however faint my skin's resistance is, it's better than nothing.

On preview, bummer, sorry to hear Tecnu didn't work for you. If you try the Oral Ivy I'd love it if you reported back on what happens.
posted by aimedwander at 10:02 AM on April 25, 2011

I've ridden through, landed in, and brushed against thickets of poison oak for the last few summers. I've maintained my sanity with Technu as well. I clean up with lots of cold running water and Technu post exposure. Technu hasn't eliminated any reaction but it has greatly reduced the extent of post exposure itchiness.

You could also try IvyBlock. I've never used IvyBlock but I've heard that it works.
posted by golden at 10:03 AM on April 25, 2011

Have you tried using Zanfel (dunno why I called it 'Zanfanel.' Twice.) immediately after exposure?
posted by cooker girl at 10:06 AM on April 25, 2011

I've found Zanfel helped but I had to use it several times. Like you I get PI systematically. It wasn't a magic bullet but definitely reduced things with 2-3 applications.
posted by leslies at 10:29 AM on April 25, 2011

I used to get poison ivy in the middle of winter after I petted my dog who went outside for a couple of minutes. Awful.

IvyBlock worked well for me. If you can cover up--loose cotton shirt, long pants, hat, etc, that will really help. Undress yourself with latex gloves and wash with poison ivy soap.

Also, when the rash came and things got too damn awful, I'd pour diluted bleach on the rash, or at least the worst areas. Not so great in the long-term but it seemed to help with the itching and dry things out in the short term. I am sure a health professional will probably chime in on how this is a bad idea, though.

(this page says to wipe with rubbing alcohol before using soap, huh)
posted by Anonymous at 10:32 AM on April 25, 2011

My mother washed me with Fels Naptha, after I'd been in poison oak.
posted by Carol Anne at 11:42 AM on April 25, 2011

The urushiol that causes your rash is an oil, and a stubborn one. As schroedinger noted, you generally need to break down the oil with some kind of alcohol before you can use soap & water to remove it. I've even read of some people who soak their affected clothing in alcohol before washing it.

When you say that you didn't "touch anything suspect," what do you mean, exactly? If you were in a house used by people who have come into contact with urushiol, the oil could be on their clothes or shoes, on the flooring, carpeting, chairs, or who-knows-what. It could be on pets if the pets are allowed to roam freely or are walked through areas that contain poison ivy. And the oil doesn't always come completely off with soap and water. So, you may need to re-think your precautionary measures.

Forgive me, I haven't used barrier creams or the oral ivy, so I can't comment on those, but as a fellow urushiol obsessive I wanted to make sure you were aware of how easy it is to get the stuff on your person.

One other maybe-you-aren't-aware tip that I learned as a result of several systemic outbreaks--do not eat or touch cashews! Or touch or kiss anyone who's eaten cashews unless they've washed up! The cashew is in the same plant family as poison ivy and the shells contain urushiol. I've found that even the roasting process isn't enough to keep me from becoming VERY UNCOMFORTABLE from one end to the other, if you get what I mean. Ugh. Good luck.
posted by Fui Non Sum at 11:45 AM on April 25, 2011

Oh! Forgot to mention: I carry a travel pack of handi-wipes with me pretty much everywhere. This is in the hopes that the alcohol they contain will at least help to remove some of the oil should I unexpectedly contact it. Might be something to consider when you're in this particular environment. You can easily find pocket-sized packages.
posted by Fui Non Sum at 11:47 AM on April 25, 2011

For relief once you've already got it -- anti-histamines, yep, and showers with the water as hot as you can possibly stand it, put your arm or leg or whatever directly in the flow of the hot water. You'll think you're going to itch to death for about 1/8th second but then an almost orgasmic release as these itch-monsters totally release and no, I am not kidding, it feels great, it's pretty amazing, and the itch is totally gone. And then I can work or sleep for about six hours or so, then another blazing hot shower. Three weeks to a month of this if I get even a little bit of this garbage on me. And it's everywhere in Austin, creepers and also huge bushes, sometimes vines leering out of the woods as I ride my bike on the trails, it's like in a horror movie and the heroine is thinking about walking down the basement stairs...

Good luck.
posted by dancestoblue at 6:04 PM on April 25, 2011

I have used something called simply Poison Ivy Pills, which I think is probably more or less the same thing as Oral Ivy. I'm wildly allergic and have had poison ivy systemically at least once - once to the point of going to the doctor and getting steroid shots and more steroids for weeks - and several other times I think were systemic but I managed without medical treatment. Yes, the pills have helped. I started taking them a couple of summers ago and I still keep a bottle around; I take them here and there. I know that is insane. I know that homeopathy doesn't work but I am here to tell you that the damn ivy pills, or something coincidental that I can't identify, have made it so that I no longer get horrific poison ivy every single summer.

Granted, I have also learned to be pretty cautious. When I come in from hiking or gardening or mowing - even if I haven't seen any poison ivy - I immediately strip, put my clothes in a plastic bag and take a long hot shower. I used to use Tecnu or poison ivy soap but now I just use Dr. Bronners and a lot of it. Theoretically, if you get the oil off you fast enough, you won't get the rash.

The poison ivy pills are cheap and even if they don't work for you, I doubt they'll hurt. I think they worked for me. Something sure did and I'm not inclined to look a gift horse in the mouth.
posted by mygothlaundry at 6:12 PM on April 25, 2011

Some facts: irushiol oil is a readily oxydizing oil contained in the sap of poison ivy, poison oak, and the less-often-seen poison sumac. As it is in the sap, it can be found in any plant part. It is not exuded by the plant, but may be exposed whenever the plant is damaged. It is very sticky, and its oxydized form tends to bond tightly to skin, making it even harder to wash off (this is why it is so important to get it washed off quickly, before it "sets"). It has an amazingly high combustion point, so it survives wood fires and is carried away in the smoke. It resists degradation, so it can remain potent months after the plant is dead (or after the clothing was impregnated).

Sensitivity to the oil tends to increase with exposure. Some studies suggest infants are immune, and only lose this immunity at varying rates. However, no one has a lifelong guaranteed immunity, and many of the worst cases have occurred while someone was demonstrating their "immunity".

Now, some good news:

Scratching does not "spread the poison." By the time the site itches, the poison has long since been absorbed into the bloodstream, and most of the toxins on the outside of the skin have likely been washed away. The fluid in the hives is mere lymph, not concentrated poison.

Likewise, the hives and rash are not contagious.

The oil is readily taken up by soaps (you don't need to buy a special soap; Ivory will do) and dissolves in isopropyl alcohol.

The optimal plan to deal with poison ivy is then:

1. Avoid skin contact, duh.

2. Avoid contact on clothing you intend to wear again, at least before thorough washing with lots of detergent. This includes gloves and shoes!

3. NEVER burn ivy-covered wood or lawn rubbish, no matter how old!

4. If you suspect contact with broken ivy plants, washing sooner is preferable to washing with ideal products. That is, rinsing your exposed skin in a nearby stream is worthwhile, before heading back to the house to lather up with dish soap.

5. Do not scrub the exposed area, unless it is under running water or you are using soap. Dry scrubbing will remove skin layers that are slowing down the absorption of the poison.

Ignore any and all advice from people who "heard product X works". There are no products that have been shown to prevent poison ivy systemic reactions, short of hystamine-blockers such as antihistamines and steroids (ditto, but typically more powerfully). A lot of bunk items are sold as preventatives and cures - Oral Ivy and Tecnu are among them. If any of these actually worked in clinical trials, their success would make headlines; urushiol oil attacks millions of people yearly, and can cause tremendous suffering.
posted by IAmBroom at 7:01 PM on April 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

I really think you ought to avoid exposure to the best of your ability. If this means cancelling your plans to spend a week among poison ivy [*shudder*] so be it. Otherwise, it means becoming completely OCD about the clothing you wear and how you protect and wash exposed skin, as detailed above.

I also recommend seeing a good allergist who treats poison ivy.
posted by exphysicist345 at 7:25 PM on April 25, 2011

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