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Treating Poison Ivy Rash With Home Remedies: Jewelweed

Is the Rash Contagious, and What Relief Is Available?

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Jewelweed (image): backyard remedy for treating poison ivy rash.

Jewelweed: backyard remedy for poison ivy.

David Beaulieu

Now that we've identified poison ivy on Page 1, let's consider the matter of treating poison ivy rash. When we speak of a cure or treatment for this rash, we generally mean relief from its symptoms. Once the symptoms occur (itchy bumps on your skin), relief is the only remedy we seek -- before we scratch ourselves to death.

Different people find different degrees of relief by treating poison ivy rash with over-the-counter remedies, such as hydrocortisones. Despite its inclusion in the classic rock song, "Poison Ivy," even Calamine lotion has its limitations as a treatment.

Some people have such a severe reaction to poison ivy that they need to visit a physician and get a shot. It usually takes about two weeks to get rid of poison ivy rash. For a home remedy, try applying the crushed leaves of jewelweed (Impatiens capensis). For a picture of jewelweed, see the photo above, on your right. The beauty of this home remedy is that jewelweed is a common weed in damp areas. This "treatment" may very well be growing right in your own backyard.

But there is another kind of treatment of poison ivy rash: namely, prevention. If you realize you've just come into contact with poison ivy, apply rubbing alcohol to the infected area and/or rinse with water (any water).

So what makes poison ivy (and poison oak and poison sumac, too)...well, poisonous? The answer is urushiol, which is the sap that runs through all parts of the plant. Grazing against poison ivy with any exposed part of your body is all that it takes to release this poison. Complicating matters further, contact with poison ivy does not even have to be direct for you to contract the rash. For instance, if your dog runs through some poison ivy, then you stroke your dog's fur with your hand, you could come into contact with the sap and develop a rash. Likewise, if someone else had been working in a poison ivy-infested area with gloves, then you came along and touched those contaminated gloves, you could get the rash.

So if the poison is spread that easily, poison ivy must be contagious, right? Wrong. It's only the urushiol that puts you at risk. Scratching your bumps doesn't cause the poison ivy to spread to other areas of your body. Nor will you contract the rash just by touching somebody else's rash bumps. Once the bumps are present, the damage that the urushiol can inflict has already been inflicted.

Now that you know how easy it is to contract the poison ivy itch, what you probably really want to know is how to get rid of poison ivy growing on your landscape. And that is the subject of Page 3....

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