Six Ways to Treat Poison Oak

Poison oak (along with poison ivy and sumac) is a non-flowering plant that can cause severe allergic reactions after skin contact. Anyone who has reacted to poison oak knows of the symptoms, including an intensely itchy, red rash with bumps or blisters. Because the oils on the plant that cause the reaction can cling to humans, animals and fabrics and spread from these to other people, it’s not just those in the woods who are at risk. You can prevent an exposure by knowing what poison oak looks like and avoiding it, and by wearing protective clothing when in areas where it may be present. But if you have already had contact with poison oak, try the following:

1. Avoid touching other parts of your body. This is especially important immediately after exposure, since the irritating oils can be transferred to other areas.
2. Rinse affected areas with plenty of cold water immediately after exposure to flush out oils, or wash with rubbing alcohol.
3. Use an over-the-counter product known as Tecnu lotion, which works well to remove oils up to 24 hours after contact.
4. If the itching has begun to develop, run hot water - as hot as you can stand - on the affected areas. The itching will briefly become intense, but then will stop for several hours, as the nerves that convey the sensory information to the brain become overloaded and quit. Repeat the hot water treatment as necessary.
5. Relieve itching with calamine lotion and aloe vera gel.
6. Try witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) to treat poison oak blisters. Available in liquid distillation, it can be found at any drug store and can be safely used by both adults and children.

Keep in mind that serious cases of poison oak require medical supervision and prescription treatment - contact your physician if you run a fever of 101 degrees or higher, if blisters ooze pus, or if the rash is widespread or near sensitive areas such as eyes, mouth or genitals.