Poison Ivy

Question:  Can you recommend any treatment for severe poison ivy besides steroids? I usually have my summer ruined by at least one case of poison ivy.

Answer:  Poison ivy, known by its botanical name of Rhus Toxicodiendron, is an indigenous plant growing in North America. Susceptible people who have contact with the oils secreted by the leaves experience an intensely itchy rash that is characterized by little vesicles (bubbles) arranged in a linear fashion. These little bubbles will often ooze and the surrounding areas can be red and swollen. The rash of poison ivy can affect any of the skin areas but it rarely, if ever, affects the mucus membranes, meaning such areas as the inside of the mouth, eyes or gastrointestinal tract. Often I have seen patients whose eyelids were swollen shut with the skin bright red and itchy, but the white part of the eye was completely normal. The rash and other symptoms of poison ivy can last from several days to up to two months in susceptible people who have had significant exposure. Occasionally the oozing skin can get infected, but this is less frequent than most people think.

The conventional treatment of poison ivy is wet dressing with Domeboro to relieve the itching and inflammation, and oral Prednisone given over 7 to 10 days to suppress the systemic response. While this undoubtedly works and is sometimes necessary in severe cases, I have found that one can often avoid these harsh treatments by using the appropriate natural medicines.

The first strategy for dealing with poison ivy is prevention. Learn to recognize the dark green ovoid leaves, growing in clusters of three, that characterize the vine. Wear long sleeved shirts and long pants when gardening or walking in the woods. After any potential exposure to poison ivy (or poison oak or sumac), apply Tecnu skin cleanser, available at any pharmacy, to exposed unwetted skin. Rub vigorously for two minutes before rinsing.

Once the rash has manifested, you can also use Tecnu or Fel’s Naptha soap to wash the entire body, including under the fingernails. These soaps break down the poisonous oils, preventing further reaction from contact. The next step is wet dressing made with Domeboro powder, also available at any pharmacy, for 20 minutes, three to six times per day in the worst areas. These are temporary measures, but they help to relieve the itching that can be so intense.

From the first sign of the rash, the patient should take Rhus Tox 30C (or X), 3 to 5 tablets every 2-4 fours under the tongue. This homeopathic medicine, made from poison ivy, takes advantage of the fundamental principle of “like cures like” and is very effective in helping the body overcome the rash.

I also give calcium in the form of calcium lactate (1500 mg) once a day, or an intravenous preparation made from calcium carbonate (oyster shell) and Cortex Quercus (oak bark) The role of calcium in the treatment of this or any other rash is that nature often uses calcium to encapsulate living things such as trees (bark) and oysters (shell). Throughout nature, calcium as a salt forms borders or boundaries. In poison ivy our boundaries become blurry, indistinct, oozy and swollen. These calcium preparations in a sense lead us back to a healthy border. Unquestionably the intravenous preparation works best. It is obtainable through Raphael Pharmacy in California (916-962-1099) but of course involves some expertise for its usage.

To block histamine release and truly help relieve itching and anxiety, I also suggest taking either Quercitin, a form of bioflavanoids; or some natural vitamin C, 250 mg 6 times per day, such as Cataplex C from Standard Process (800-558-8740) or acerola tablets from Springreen (530-347-5869); or Valerian herbal tincture, 20-40 drops every 2 to 4 hours.

For more severe cases one can also try soaking in a bath to which you have added Aveeno powder, available at any drugstore. Some have found temporary relief by holding the rashy areas against a hard stream of hot water in the shower. This, in effect, “scratches” the rash without harming the skin or causing infection.

Through this approach, even though I have seen hundreds of cases of poison ivy, rarely have I had to resort to steroids or antibiotics.

First published in Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation Health Journal