Last year, while playing an impressive round of disc golf, I came into contact with poison oak. Or perhaps it was poison ivy…same thing really. Poison ivy and poison oak (along with poison sumac) are all packed with the same toxin, urushiol. Anyway, I didn’t notice anything at first, which is normal. A poison oak rash can develop hours after contact, but it can also show up two weeks later. The next morning I awoke to find blisters and the beginnings of an impressive rash all over my feet and calves. It is normal for a poison oak rash to develop over a period of days, and mine did just that. I spent the next few weeks groaning and looking for poison oak remedies.
Well, in my search for relief I found out that there is no easy way to get rid of poison oak. Nothing will clear it up overnight, not even snake oil. What you can do is treat poison oak symptoms – specifically the itching that will have you chewing glass for distraction. Itching not only causes madness and fits of rage, it also can lead to infections and scarring. Below you’ll find out how to soothe the itching and survive your bout with poison oak.
What Does Poison Oak Look Like?
“If I had known it was poison oak, I wouldn’t have stuffed it in my pants.” Alas, how many blisters and rashes could be avoided with a little knowledge? Well, poison oak is found along the Western seaboard, from Southern California to British Columbia. Another strain is native to the southeastern United States. It can be a shrub (large or small) or a vine, and sometimes it can look like part of a tree.
Each leaf is composed of three leaflets, which kind of resemble oak leaves. Poison ivy also boasts three leaflets – hence the expression, “leaves of three, let it be.” Poison oak will look brilliant in the fall (flaming orange and red), and you’ll be tempted to add some to a bouquet or shove it down your pants. Save your body from having to get rid of poison oak by avoiding it.
Ways to Get Rid of Poison Oak
You can prevent a poison oak rash by washing 10-15 minutes after contact with a plant. It takes about half an hour for your skin to absorb poison oak’s nasty oil, urushiol. Using an anti-bacterial soap and warm water, scrub like crazy. Wash anywhere you think you were exposed to poison oak, but also get your hands – even under your fingernails. Applying rubbing alcohol can help part the poison from your skin. The oil has a long shelf life, so you’ll need to wash any clothes, footwear, or equipment that has come into contact with poison oak. In addition to detergent, use bleach on your clothes if you can, and apply rubbing alcohol to any equipment. Many people fail to get rid of poison oak rashes because they keep reintroducing the poison to their skin via shoes, clothes, pets, and equipment.
Apply soothing lotions like calamine or aloe vera directly to the poison oak rash. Early on, use calamine lotion to get rid of poison oak symptoms. Calamine lotion has mild anti-itch properties, but it is also mildly antiseptic, so it will protect against infection. When it evaporates, it leaves a powdery residue that soaks up any oozing from the rash or blisters. Once the rash has started to heal or crust over, switch to aloe vera or something less drying. Other highly-recommended topical treatments for poison oak include Sarna (menthol based) or Aveeno Anti-Itch Cream with Natural Colloidal Oatmeal.
Use a cool, wet compress to get rid of poison oak symptoms. Fight the fire with ice. Place an ice pack or a rag with ice cubes on your rash. Do it for twenty minutes to half an hour several times daily. Keeping the rash cool will constrict blood vessels, which lessens itching and inflammation. You can also compress with whole milk. I haven’t found a good explanation as to why this works (possibly because of the specific fats and proteins), but it does. The OTC product Burrow’s Solution – found at any drugstore – is great for wet wraps. It is widely known to soothe itching, kill bacteria, and reduce inflammation.
Take antihistamine pills to soothe itching and get to sleep. An OTC antihistamine like Benadryl can help to calm a poison oak rash. These drugs work by blocking certain chemical reaction that causes itching; however, this effect is pretty mild. Its real merit is that it also causes drowsiness so you can sleep, which is essential for healing. When I developed a poison oak rash (hives and all), antihistamines saved my vision; another day without sleep and I surely would have manually removed my eyeballs. One caution: never use topical antihistamines to get rid of poison oak symptoms. This may lead to a more severe rash.
Be patient and allow your poison oak rash to heal. Only time will get rid of a poison oak rash. And during that time, you’ll have to be patient and use the above poison oak remedies to stay sane and comfortable. While healing, keep your fingernails trimmed and do everything you can to avoid scratching, which not only prolongs the rash, but can also lead to infection and scarring.
Medical Poison Oak Treatments
Normally, you won’t have to go to the doctor and your body will get rid of poison oak on its own. However, if you got the plant toxin in your eyes, mouth, or naughty parts, you’re having trouble breathing, your poison oak rash isn’t going away, or your gut is telling you “PANIC”, see your doctor. The labcoats will be able to prescribe antibiotics and strong oral or topical steroids. They can also drain and treat severe blisters to prevent scarring. If your reaction was especially frightening, they may help you get rid of poison oak forever. You’ll go through a series of allergy shots designed to inoculate you against urushiol, but these shots are painful (in my experience) and time consuming.
Get Rid of Poison Oak Rash Naturally
Cool baths with Aveeno Colloidal Oatmeal. Oatmeal baths are one of the oldest, most effective ways to get rid of poison oak itching and burning. Taking a cool bath will constrict blood vessels, and the oatmeal makes the water feel like silk. Oatmeal baths moisturize, soften, and protect skin. Just be careful getting out of the tub – this stuff makes everything break-neck slippery.
No Aveeno? Take a cool bath with a Quaker. Colloidal oatmeal isn’t anything special. It’s just been ground into a fine powder so that it won’t settle on the bottom of the tub. That Quaker will work though. Throw some in your blender and “poof”…it’s colloidal. It will also work as flakes. Just add five cups to lukewarm bathwater. Soak for 20 to 30 minutes and be gentle with your towel.
Make a soothing paste. You can stick with oatmeal, but baking soda, Epsom salts, or cornstarch also work well as a paste. Generally, you’ll need around two teaspoons of water for every six teaspoons of ingredient. It depends how messy you want the paste. Slop this stuff on your poison oak rash (not open blisters). It will provide temporary relief from the itching.
Apply tea tree oil. Tea tree oil is great for many skin conditions, but it also will help get rid of poison oak rashes. It aids the skin in the healing process, but more importantly, it has antimicrobial properties. This is good, as infection is the #1 complication associated with poison oak and poison ivy. Look for pure tea tree oil at any whole foods store.
Use hot, hot water? During my research I came across a few publications that suggested using very hot water – as hot as you can stand – to get rid of poison oak itching. Your rash will itch very intensely for a few minutes (you’ll yearn for death) and then, overloaded with stimulus, the nerve endings will shut down (you’ll love life), leaving you itch-free for a few hours.