Late at night while you're sleepin' poison ivy comes a'creepin'
July 8, 2012 7:47 AM   Subscribe

Help me deal with my poison ivy -- the painful parts not so much the itchy.

I have poison ivy all over my legs and knees -- all around where the leg bends. The rash first surfaced last Monday night, was in full swing by Tuesday... has continued to sprout up in several new spots over the past few days.

It blistered, they accidentally broke open. They were oozing pretty badly. The pharmacist gave me an astringent to use as compresses on my legs. They appear to have 'worked' since the blisters are dripping anymore but my skin is now super sore.

I've been taking hot showers and using calamine to soothe the itch. Having no problems with that.

I have just been laying around all weekend hoping that everything would scab up and what not ... but maybe it's really bad?

Some people are like 'Wow you should really go to the doctor' but these are the same people who keep telling me 'It's contagious, it's spreading, you shouldn't use Calamine lotion' etc. which are all wrong.

I don't want to bother calling up the doctor if this is going to get better soon. I know they say it can last 1-3 weeks. I can't imagine spending the next two weeks with my legs feeling like this.

So. 1. YANMD but -- should I go to the doctor?

2. Regardless of if I go to the doctor... it's Sunday afternoon. I've got about 22 hours before I can even get into a doctor's office MINIMUM. Share with me your tips for soothing my raw,blisterty, Poison Ivy rash.
posted by mittenbex to Health & Fitness (28 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
When I had shingles (not exactly the same, but maybe similar enough?) ice packs felt fantastic on painful blistered skin.
posted by platypus of the universe at 8:05 AM on July 8, 2012

I'm really sensitive to poison ivy. As a kid, it would spread all over my body and last for weeks. Now I go to the doctor and get a short prescription for prednizone, which miraculously clears it up in less than a day.

Gold Bond cream and aveeno oatmeal baths have been successful at temporarily relieving the itching for me.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 8:07 AM on July 8, 2012

1) Poison ivy doesn't "spread", except shortly after you initially contact it (ie, your dirty clothes and other freshly-contaminated body parts still coated with urushiol can spread it to other parts of your body).

2) This won't help you this time, but as a fellow sufferer, you can greatly minimize the rash if you know you've come in contact with it - Immediately take a benadryl, throw your dirty clothes in the washer, and take a "decontaminating" style shower (wash your hands and forearms; rinse; wash your head; rinse; wash your hands and forearms again; rinse; wash your upper body; rinse; wash your hands and forearms again; rinse; wash your midriff... And so on down to your feet). Make sure NOT to directly contact your dirty clothes (often including shoes) until after giving them a good washing or two.

3) The blisters don't go deep enough to present a real danger to you, but keep them clean to avoid infection. You really only need to go to the doctor if you have blisters in an especially dangerous place, such as internally or your eyes, of you literally have 50% of your body one giant weeping sore. The doctor won't do anything for you otherwise, so save your money.

4) Caladryl, caladryl, caladryl. Just watch out for anticholinergic toxicity (if you start to feel paradoxical excitation, excessive dry-mouth, or hallucinate, time to cut back).
posted by pla at 8:09 AM on July 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Go to the doctor. They will give you prednisone, which is a prescription that costs $5 to fill, and it will start feeling better tomorrow. Or live with it for another week.

Honestly, it you have medical care of any type, you should just go get your prednisone prescription the first day you notice the rash at all, even if it's just a small area and doesnt itch that bad, because the n you can prevent it from turning into complete hell over the following day or two.

I'm not kidding. It will cost you like $15. Just go to the doctor at the first sign of poison oak/ivy.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 8:17 AM on July 8, 2012

My last bad poison ivy infection (and I am VERY sensitive to the stuff), I found that dampening paper towels with cold water and wrapping them around the infected areas helped a LOT. Be sure to stick the paper towel together so it doesn't easily fall off. Unfortunately, I had to change the towels regularly because they'd dry out so quickly, but sometimes the coolness combined with my inability to touch the area gave the blisters/oozing a chance to calm down a bit, I got distracted, and then I got relief for an hour or two (at least long enough to fall asleep). I imagine ice packs would also work, except that they don't wrap around and stay in place so easily.

Good luck! What an unpleasant experience.
posted by Nx at 8:45 AM on July 8, 2012

The stuff they make for sunburns that has lidocaine in it is fine to use for poison ivy. (Solarcaine is a the brand name that springs to mind.) You can get it in sprays or gels.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 8:46 AM on July 8, 2012

Also, does your medical insurance, if you have any, offer a health hotline? Many companies have a 24-hour number staffed by nurses that you can call to ask questions just like this one. Not that I want to discourage the use of Ask Metafilter-- just that this might be something you have access to right now and don't realize, and it's always nice to have a nurse tell you how to take care of yourself!
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 8:49 AM on July 8, 2012

Yes, go to the doctor tomorrow. Prednisone really helps, it is a decreasing dosage you take for about a week. I got a really bad case once before the leaves were even out on the poison ivy that had grown up within a hedge I was trimming.

The open sores can get infected if scratched and then you have a whole new problem. Ice, Caladryl, and see a doctor.
posted by mermayd at 8:51 AM on July 8, 2012

Make sure you got rid of all of it. Wash your clothes and sheets. Cortaid poison ivy scrub works pretty well. I also showered with Dawn dish soap a few times.
posted by bongo_x at 9:39 AM on July 8, 2012

As uncomfortable as you sound, I would go to urgent care this afternoon. Prednisone starts working fast--you could feel better sooner rather than later, get a good night's sleep, maybe even be able to do something timorrow.
posted by hydropsyche at 9:44 AM on July 8, 2012

Aspirin always helped my poison oak discomfort. Use 100% cotton clothing and bedding if you've got it.
posted by Carol Anne at 9:46 AM on July 8, 2012

Wet down some wash cloths. Lay flat in freezer (not right on the bottom; too hard to peel off). When frozen, press gently against ouchie skin. When washcloth thaws, replace.

Also, yeah, get the Prednisone.
posted by miss patrish at 10:00 AM on July 8, 2012

Yup. Doctor. I had systemic poison ivy as a teenager and prednisone was amazing. Get a scrip. I also had cortisone shots which offered immediate relief. You might have to specifically ask your doctor for those when you make the appt on the phone, but it's worth it. A doctor will also be able to tell if your wounds are infected, and trust me, you do not want infected poison ivy wounds, especially if your blisters have opened.
posted by juniperesque at 10:08 AM on July 8, 2012

If you think the soreness can be partially or fully attributed to swelling, take an anti-inflammatory as regularly as possible, ice the area, and keep it elevated. You can get those flat, rectangular ice packs or bags of frozen vegetables and loosely tie them against your legs with rope or a scarf or something. Continue with the calamine/caladryl/whatever to dry out the blistered area. Don't bother with Benadryl unless maybe you're having trouble sleeping, and in that case, make sure it's not going to interact badly with your anti-inflammatory. Drink a lot of water to avoid dehydration--that'll just make you feel worse all over. Those are my tips based on similarly miserable experience.
posted by Fui Non Sum at 10:21 AM on July 8, 2012

This may be obvious, but of course wrap the ice packs in towels (or damp towels if you're still oozing) before putting them against your skin! If they get stuck to you anyway, rinse in lukewarm water to help get them free.
posted by Fui Non Sum at 10:23 AM on July 8, 2012

You don't need Aveeno oatmeal bath. Take regular oatmeal, put it in a sock, tie the sock off, and put it in the bath. It will make you feel so much better.
posted by corb at 10:29 AM on July 8, 2012

It's really hard to separate poison ivy agony vs. infected poison ivy agony, because the symptoms of infection (redness, heat, swelling, oozing) are so similar to those of poison ivy itself. I have only been hospitalized once, and that was because of staph-infected poison ivy that could have cost me my arm. Go to the doctor / urgent-care. Worst case, you'll get some prescription strength relief and a confirmation that it's not infected.
posted by charmcityblues at 10:44 AM on July 8, 2012

Yeah, go to urgent care if at all possible. Since you've got it so badly at the joints, there's no way you're not going to aggravate that skin really badly, which is awful for you and also awful for the skin. You should probably be taking a round-the-clock course of anti-inflammatories along with probably steroids and maybe an antibiotic. You could be feeling better faster if you go now.

And if it's "spreading", it may be systemic. You want to stop that business in its tracks asap.

Also, stay away from hot showers. I flinched when I read that, it's got to be increasing the swelling. Lukewarm at best, cool if you can. And ice packs will probably give you some relief, but be real careful that you're getting enough of a protective layer between ice and skin that you don't do more damage.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:51 AM on July 8, 2012

In my experience, you're close to the peak of awfulness and will start getting better soon. Still, I would be at the dr for prednisone asap if I were you.
posted by yarly at 11:10 AM on July 8, 2012

And yes, if it's spreading you may be reinfecting yourself with contaminated items.
posted by yarly at 11:11 AM on July 8, 2012

You're in pain so take OTC pain meds. Take whaterver works best for you, aspirin, ibuprofen or whichever one is most effective for you. All of the external, topical, treatments above are helpful but get yourself relief from the pain.
posted by X4ster at 11:14 AM on July 8, 2012

You want Gold Bond Medicated Anti-Itch Lotion. When I got poison ivy last summer it was the only stuff at the drug store (and I freaking tried them all) that actually helped. It's got a topical pain killer in it, so it numbs the skin so you don't feel the urge to itch. Buy the big bottle, and don't skimp on applying it.
posted by COD at 11:28 AM on July 8, 2012

you want Zanfel or the generic equivalent. You use it in the shower - might take a couple go-rounds but it's miraculous stuff for reducing the misery in both time and intensity. I get PI systemically and this stuff really helps. It's widely available over the counter but is pricey - get the generic if you can find it.
posted by leslies at 1:54 PM on July 8, 2012

Definitely Gold Bond Medicated Anti-Itch cream. It lives in my backpack all summer because I regularly (and carelessly) get poison ivy. It's like it doesn't exist after I apply it. Also, ice packs. And the coolest trick I've learned for that bit that JUST WONT STOP ITCHING AND YOU WANT TO RIP YOUR SKIN OF is to run it under crazy hot water until you itchgasm. Trust me, the itchgasm will happen.
posted by Grandysaur at 2:08 PM on July 8, 2012

I am also severely sensitive to poison ivy and get painful lesions when the itching and weeping subsides. YMMV, but I have had success using OTC hydrocortisone cream for pain relief.

If you think the affected area is still spreading, then I second those above who have suggested going to the doctor. Prednisone is fast-acting, and I have even had cases so severe that my doctor gave me an injection. It works like magic.
posted by erstwhile at 7:54 PM on July 8, 2012

I am allergic to poison ivy and variations. Allergic meaning meaning a little contact goes a long way. The only problem is because I travel a great deal and am in the bush a lot that means I wind up getting a lot of contact. Thankfully, for me the secret was discovering two things.

One is the value of cold water and soap. It gets the plant's oils off. For me, blisters bursting act to spread condition. If a blister bursts I immediately wash it with cold water and soap. (I use Dr Bronner's for this.) Hot water spreads the oils of the plant while cold water keeps it manageable.

The other is something called Bach's Rescue Cream.

It comes in small tubes, it's a cream-lotion, and it lasts a long time. Unless it is a severe exposure. But one tube of Bach's and antihistamines usually wins the day.

People say YMMV but in this case, I don't think so. Bach's is the real thing.

Also, seconding pla's insight about avoiding infection. That's important good advice too.
posted by Mike Mongo at 11:48 PM on July 8, 2012

You might want to pick up some hydrocortisone cream. I've used this successfully to help heal poison oak after other topical creams failed. In the USA this is available over the counter but in some countries it is not.
posted by metadave at 5:47 AM on July 9, 2012

Response by poster: Went to the the doctor this morning and they put me on a steroid cream as well as oral steroids.

It's already doing MUCH much better.

Thanks everyone.

I know now for next time to do the Zanfel or Tecnu ASAP after I realize I've been exposed and my dr. said next time I can probably just call in for a scrip for the steroids as my reaction was pretty bad.
posted by mittenbex at 3:41 PM on July 9, 2012

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