September 13th, 2010
11:41 AM ET

How can I get rid of poison ivy?

Every weekday, a CNNHealth expert doctor answers a viewer question. On Mondays, it's pediatrician Jennifer Shu.

Question asked by Stephanie of Westchester County, New York: I have had recurring poison ivy on my face for a month. It went away but now it's back. I've tried a week of prednisone and am now using hydrocortisone cream. I would love to work in the yard but don't want to get it again. Any ideas? Thanks.

Expert answer:

Thanks for your question. The oil from plants such as poison ivy can cause an allergic skin reaction (called contact dermatitis) with symptoms such as itching, swelling, redness and blisters lasting for about two to four weeks. About 50 to 75 percent of people are allergic to poison ivy, and more than 25 million Americans seek medical treatment each year for this condition. Since you're having symptoms again, you may have come into contact with the poison ivy oil again. On the other hand, you may be having a skin reaction to something else that can cause similar symptoms (for example, sunscreen, lotion, makeup, etc.). It's also possible that you have a continuing reaction from the initial exposure that got better with oral prednisone but isn't all the way gone yet.

The oil from poison ivy (urushiol) can stick to skin, clothing, pets, and gardening tools so it's important to wash these off if contact is known to have occurred. It's especially helpful to clean under one's fingernails to remove any urushiol. Wearing heavy-duty vinyl gloves may help prevent future recurrences.

Soothing measures such as cool compresses, oatmeal baths and calamine lotion can help with itching. Treatment may also include oral antihistamines, over-the-counter or prescription-strength steroid creams, and oral steroids such as prednisone. Some people have frequent or severe enough rashes from poison ivy that they may benefit from allergy shots to prevent the reactions from happening again. It may be helpful to have allergy tests done if there's a chance you might be allergic to other plants, foods, animals, or more.

Please be sure to consult with your own doctor to get the best treatment for your situation. Good luck!

soundoff (138 Responses)
  1. Lisa Hunter

    Unlike so many other things you can get, like the flu, the more often you get Poison Ivy, the worse it gets until ultimately, an allergic reaction happens. I have had it about 30 times, once while riding my bike through water after a rain. Who knew that the oil was in the water and splashed up the back of my legs. The only thing that works are steroids like prednesone although I have used bleach before just to stop the itching, That works too if you can stand the burning sensation.

    September 13, 2010 at 21:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. oldguy

    This has been very interesting. I plan to apply poison ivy oil to the stems of the flowers in my garden to give a wonderful surprise to the people who have been stealing them. I thought I would just use surgical gloves, harvest a few leaves and rub them against the stems. Do those of you who know about poison ivy think this would be effective enough?

    September 13, 2010 at 22:38 | Report abuse | Reply
    • YouBastard

      you need the oil from the poison ivy plant .....I believe it is the most concentrated in the stems and I do not approve of this. But some one or a group of people are cracking me up........Laughter is the best medicine.....

      September 14, 2010 at 07:41 | Report abuse |
  3. Dr. Jennifer Shu

    Thanks for sharing all your comments! One doctor wrote to me and wanted me to clarify that desenstization (using shots or ingesting the leaves or oil of the offending plants) has not been proven to be effective and is therefore not generally recommended. Also, as one poster mentioned, plants related to poison ivy, oak and sumac such as mango rinds, cashew nutshells, Japanese lacquer trees, ginkgo trees and more can all cause dermatitis.

    September 13, 2010 at 23:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Fifty

    My solution works but may not be the best. After two cases that covered much of my body. I found that if I use engine degreaser immediately, it removes the oil and I don't even get a rash. Of course, engine degreaser could possibly be toxic but I was desperate for a solution.

    September 13, 2010 at 23:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. mark

    Zanfel is he best treatment, A couple of pharmacys (Wallgreens and CVS) sell generic Zanfel at half the price.
    Don't waste you money on Technu or anything else.

    September 14, 2010 at 01:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. JIM

    Try Jewelweed plant immediately upon contact next time, rub the plant all over contact area. Now use Kenalog injections always worked for me. Had it bad in the Army at Ft Polk,LA.

    September 14, 2010 at 01:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Bob

    Thats all great but what you really need to do is get rid of the poison ivy!

    September 14, 2010 at 01:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Dennis GEaron

    Ahhjhhh, memories of lancing blisters with #11 exacto blades heated to just before they started losing temper (as much for the fun of playing with matches as for the sweet pain of pushing the hot blade into the offending blister). Then draining the fluid with the corner of a square of toilet paper. THEN, scratching off the blister and applying something made of alcohol to dry it and provide overwhelming pain to bock out the itch! Oh yeah! More fun that a 6 pack and a bug zapper, that's for sure!

    September 14, 2010 at 01:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. babylot

    My friend suggest to use bleach to get rid of poison ivy oil on affected surface. Need to try that next time when I see the first symptoms of rashes.

    September 14, 2010 at 04:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. sue

    Rub the inside of a banana peel on the skin approx 3 times a day. Stops the itching and dries it up in a few days.

    September 14, 2010 at 07:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Kulkarni

    Cut the tip of your pinky finger off .....Then go on a mission to save your pinky and "regenerate' the tip....Then tell your story to anybody who will listen ..................It will make you forget all about the poison ivy....

    September 14, 2010 at 07:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Asenith

    One of the things that many people overlook is shoe laces. Tie your shoes and you have the oil back on your hands.
    I had not heard of Zanfel but I will get some to put in our first aid box. The grandchildren always get some when they visit. We have shown them the leaves but they still manage to get it. We have sixteen acres around our home and they love to roam around when they visit.
    Does anyone have a suggestion for getting rid of chiggers? I use spray and lotions but I seem to get some every year. The itching drives me crazy. I have tried all of the over the counter treatments but they do not seem to help much. I think that I react so violenty because I am allergic to them.

    September 14, 2010 at 09:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. eric

    Suffered fropm poisonivy my whole life until I discovered Zanfel. Its amazing and its totally worth the cost. It takes the poison ivy suffering away in minutes.

    September 14, 2010 at 09:12 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Debbie

      Where can I get Zanfel? I live in Canada. Thx

      June 28, 2013 at 10:43 | Report abuse |
  14. oljt

    I am highly allergic to it. tThe 1st time I ran a weed wacker I got a severe case, my arm was as big as my leg. Went and got
    a steroid shot, poison was gone in two days but my testicles were now half their previous size. No more steroids for me!
    I now use Ivy-Bloc when weed wacking. I also can identify the plant and use Round-Up Poison Ivey Killer on it.

    September 14, 2010 at 09:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Kimberlee W.

    Okay, I'm gonna gross you alll out with my remedy (I really don't recommend this tho-). I usually don't realize I have it until it gets untolerably itchy. Then I get in a hot shower and scratch the hell out of it with Kosher salt. Then soap and more hot water. Then I get out of the shower and pour 91% alcohol all over it. Then I finish with Calamine. I can get a night's sleep this way at least. Scabs like crazy, but it's gone by the week's end. Whew!

    September 14, 2010 at 10:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Empowered2

    I had contracted poison ivy from my cRAZY neighbor just because I enjoy fresh flowers with my dinner. I had it on my hand so I had my hand amputated by my husband..I no longer suffer from poison ivy!!!.....I am soooo Empowered from reading info on-line and Cohen's book .....I sure showed that Old man who is number 1.....Doctors,nurses,health care providers and Hospitals are for fools!!!!! Thanks CNN

    September 14, 2010 at 10:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Try ORAL IVY!!

    The fact is, no matter how much you try to avoid Poison Ivy if you spend any time outdoors you're going to get it at some point either from walking thru it and transferring it to your hands, or by the dog running thru it, etc. Lucky for me I do not get it whatsoever, but have watched my wife and 3 out of 4 sons get it BADLY every year.... until I discovered ORAL IVY. Beat ivy from the inside-out.... Buy it from Amazon, or I believe some GNC's carry it (for quite a markup but if you have it you won't want to wait 7-10 days for the shipment). I didn't believe it until my wife had a really bad case and 2 days after taking it all of the blisters started drying up. The way you take it is orally and if you are highly allergic as my wife is you only take a few drops of it daily in water and that's it. She now takes it all summer long and hasn't had poison ivy since. Same goes for my sons, I wouldn't believe it if I didn't experience it first hand. It allows your body to build an immunity while taking so there is no reaction when in contact w/poison ivy. Can't stress it enough, buy it! It's cheap and you can prevent getting it at all so no suffering whatsoever. I don't work for the company, trust me, but I tell as many people about it as I can as I would hate to see the product go away. Great product, do research on it... only costs about $15 online w/shipping. Tried other washes, rinses, blockers, etc. but at that point you're too late you already got it, or will get it once you wash the blocker off. If you already have poison ivy you take a heavier dose, once it's gone you just take it daily as maintenence. 1 bottle will last you a whole summer, unless multiple people are taking it. Do yourself and others a favor by trying it, it does really work. Try it out and spread the word so it doesn't disappear from the market!

    September 14, 2010 at 12:01 | Report abuse | Reply
    • 1-800-IVY-ORAL

      I am rushing out to get mine today!!!! I heard there is special deal ..... buy 1 bottle get 1bottle free..... today only............


      Thanks for the info!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I feel so powerful ....................

      September 14, 2010 at 12:12 | Report abuse |
    • FormerDiabetic

      Oral Ivy is not just for poison Ivy........................It could possibly cure diabetes..........It contains a food supplement used by the ancient Mayans.....I saw it on an infomercial late at night.......I hope it helps my insomnia!!!

      September 14, 2010 at 12:20 | Report abuse |
    • DavidTrueDough

      yes folks....it is real.....Oral-Ivy...........really really works........................check out my infomercials late late at night .....the medical doctors don't want you to know........they spend 12 years in school .............Remember I was trying to sell you Corral Calcium and the Hollyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyywood Diet 12 years ago and look where those products are today! sure I was in jail but buy MY products...............................miracle Oral-Ivy!!!!

      September 14, 2010 at 13:42 | Report abuse |
    • Try ORAL IVY!!

      In my original post I was going to add that in my research I have come across indications that it helped people with other ailments, such as arthiritis and diabetes. If it works for that too then great, but I know first hand it works for poison ivy! If you read the product label online it doesn't contain food supplements. It is actually refined from the poison ivy plant itself and contains no other ingredients (other than alcohol). My wife is down to one bottle... buy one-get one?!? Going to check it out right now!! Friends I'm telling you that you really must try it. Save your money on soaps, lotions, etc.... I spent $35 on stupid jewelweed soap last year and my kids still got the rash.

      September 14, 2010 at 13:48 | Report abuse |
  18. Seth

    I'm 12 and I have poison ivy all over my hands and face my face seems to be healing but my hands it just keeps spreading right in the middle of sleeping it itches and stings and its everywhere on my fingers in between and there rubbing up against each other in the mornings i want to chop my hands off and i'm embarrest in school what works best?????????

    October 21, 2010 at 06:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Barb

    Thanks for this. You can google everything/anything. And that's how many answers you will come up with. In the end, you're back at the beginning. What was the answer??? Finally, not really a quick easy solution. But, yes, something that makes sense. Really, think CNN should start answering google's top 100,000.

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  22. Terry West

    I am two days into poison oak and just spent $100 on Zanfel, calamine, Ivy away, etc. Thank GOD I read about the hot hair dryer effect yesterday and the heat was better than .... well what Sally said in the diner in "When Harry met Sally."

    It halted the itching IMMEDIATELY!

    My challenge after was to dry the blisters. I just applied Zanfel twice and will post update soon.

    I also have bottle of alcohol to continue drying the bubbles alternating the dryer and alcohol.

    May 29, 2015 at 16:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. skyler

    i have poison ivy on my fingers. is there anything i can ise to get it off quick?

    June 3, 2015 at 13:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Mj

    Sounds like re-exposure. The oil is invisible. Due to transfer it could be anywhere. Your pillow. I don't know. Best case its on something disposable you will replace anyway. Better case its on a hard surface that just needs to wiped down. Like a door knob. (Careful when cleaning not to transfer) Worst case is it has absorbed into a porous surface in your home and will continue to leach for years. Be mindful and vigilant. Learn to retrace your steps.

    April 6, 2017 at 18:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Sunshine

    Urine and nail polish.

    Urine is the best!

    June 13, 2017 at 21:34 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.