Tuesday, November 28, 2023


Got a bad travel itch? How to deal with poison ivy

By Russ and Tiña De Maris
“Happiness,” wrote the poet Ogden Nash, “is having a scratch for every itch.” We daresay Nash never ran into a patch of poison ivy. He’d have been so busy with the scratches he’d never have time to lift his pen. Poison ivy rash, and the resulting itch, can literally last for weeks. What a way to spoil an RV trip! How can you deal with poison ivy and its creepy cohorts, poison oak and poison sumac?

Avoid close encounters of the unwanted kind

Click to enlarge. poison-ivy.org

How likely are you to have a close encounter of the unwanted kind? A quick look at the distribution map of this terrible trio could almost be terrifying. While poison sumac is limited to very wet areas, largely on the East Coast and parts of the Southeast, poison ivy hangs out in virtually every one of the Lower 48 states. Although it is a bit limited on the ocean-side of the Western coastal states, poison oak is more than happy to heavily populate those areas!


The best way to deal with poison ivy and kin is simply not to touch them. An old rhyme learned as children ran, “Leaves of three? Let them be!” A scientifically based statement, plants bearing three leaves are immediately suspect, as poison oak and poison ivy are three-leaved plants. Poison sumac, alas, didn’t read the instruction set. Its leaves are decidedly different, with 7 to 13 leaflets arranged in pairs along a stem, with a single leaflet at the end of the stem. It’s a bit stylish too, with leaves that are bright orange in spring, changing to dark green in summer, and then to red-orange in fall. You’ll find the website poison-ivy.org a great place to “deep dive” for more information on all itch-inducing plants.

Results of contact

Regardless of the actual plant, if you run into any of these three irritating characters, the result is often the same. Contact with the resin of the leaves, an oily substance called urushiol, brings on a nasty reaction. It’s a rash and itch that can drive you mad. Depending on your own body reaction and the amount of the urushiol you contact, the itch can be mild to maddening. Some folks are blessed with no reaction at all, but if you carry home the resin to others, they may become “collateral damage.”

If you’re taking a walk and step in some sort of unknown plant, it’s best to treat yourself as if you’ve had contact with one of the members of the unholy plant trinity. Wash up well with soap and water. Wash your clothes and shoes, too. And if Rover may have muddled his way into a poison plant, he, too, will need the dreaded bath. Dealing with poison ivy isn’t pretty, or easy.

Go offensive with skin barriers

Some folks who frequent areas where poisonous contact plants are common go on the offensive. Before setting out in the brush, they coat themselves with a barrier substance that helps prevent the creepy plants from getting through. One product that seems to receive fairly high marks for shutting down poison ivy before it gets started is IvyX Pre-Contact Skin Barrier Gel. Its maker says you simply apply the stuff to your skin and you can immediately head out on your adventures. You can find it on Amazon.

What if you come in contact with these durned dermal delinquents? Again, washing to get rid of as much of the oil as possible is the starting point. There are over-the-counter potions to help you deal with poison ivy (and similar plant irritants) reactions. One such product is the humble calamine lotion. You can aim higher on the potency list to deal with poison ivy reactions with corticosteroid skin creams. And, adds the Mayo Clinic, Benadryl (diphenhydramine) can also help one to cope with the irritating itching.

Beware, a simple itch may not be the end of it. If your reaction includes liquid-filled blisters, swelling, difficulty in breathing, or fever, don’t self-medicate. Get thee to a physician!

Sumac (and others) summary

Dealing with poison ivy or others in the itch-inducing family starts with avoiding contact. That means keeping a sharp eye open for suspect plants. Using a barrier ointment can reduce the problem if you do bumble into these “brambles.” And if you have an incident, take the appropriate action to cope with the reactions. Frankly, for our travels, the only itch we want is the “hitch itch,” wherein our sense of adventure and delight in discovery moves our feet on down the road.


These are the home remedies we swear by for bug bite itching
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Russ and Tiña De Maris
Russ and Tiña De Maris
Russ and Tiña went from childhood tent camping to RVing in the 1980s when the ground got too hard. They've been tutored in the ways of RVing (and RV repair) by a series of rigs, from truck campers, to a fifth-wheel, and several travel trailers. In addition to writing scores of articles on RVing topics, they've also taught college classes for folks new to RVing. They authored the book, RV Boondocking Basics.



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rag_ftw (@guest_210675)
1 year ago

I have excellent results with itch relief by running HOT water over the infected area. When I say HOT I mean increasing the heat to the point I can no longer tolerate it. I then back it off a little and allow it to flow over the area for at least 30 seconds. This gives me itch relief for at least 12 hours and sometimes 24 hours.

Wolfe (@guest_135418)
2 years ago

I’m SEVERELY (ER/ICU level) allergic …and much of below comments aren’t quite right.

– The oil binds to your skin in about 12 hours after exposure. Most don’t know this because they don’t clean it off *right* and completely within that window.

– urushiol is a viscous OIL and as such does not wash off easily. Practice washing off black axle grease and you have it about right.

– correct: use Dawn which eats grease better than any hand soap.
– Use a loofa or scrub brush and REALLY scrub. Friction is 90% of cleaning.
– Rinse and repeat (axle grease spreads forever… right?)

As a test for when it mattered more, I knowingly smeared myself and waited 2 hours, and then washed as above – it works! Just remember its like invisible axle grease and you’ll do fine.

Larry Lee (@guest_135260)
2 years ago

I agree with SGittle, Zanfel is the best for washing after exposure to poison ivy. No comparison with the other remedies. This stuff works. I am told that the poison of poison ivy attaches to your skin chemically within about 15 minutes after which regular soap will not wash it off, but Zanfel will.

SGittle (@guest_135249)
2 years ago

Poison Ivy Wash, Zanfel is a brandname, has saved me from steroids and severe suffering! I can get a reaction washing my husband’s clothes if he’s been in contact with any of the poisons. Use as directed. Relief is just a scrub away! No more ER or Dr visits since finding this stuff.

Mike (@guest_135107)
2 years ago

I don’t know about out West, but here in Indiana Poison Oak has 5 leaves. We used to eat Poison Ivy leaves as Kids because the “older boy next door” said it would make us immune. To this day I don’t get poison Ivy or Oak. Maybe it worked?

rag_ftw (@guest_210674)
1 year ago
Reply to  Mike

This is not recommended. I had a friend that ate some poison ivy leaves and ended up in the hospital with a serious reaction.

Lazy Q (@guest_135100)
2 years ago

I was collateral damage a few years ago. Daughter who lived in Northern California came for a visit, I drove her car once while she was here and apparently I got the transfer from her seat and seatbelt. Worse feeling I ever had and ended up on steroids for a week. Recently visited my son in Oregon, walking to a site on his property the brush started getting closer and to many different plants in the area so I headed back, not going through that again if I can help it.

Thom R (@guest_135099)
2 years ago

When I was a kid my brother would get poison ivy rash easily, I was immune. That was over 50 years ago. Not sure now, won’t be finding out…

Jane (@guest_135047)
2 years ago

I am very sensitive to PI and I’m also a gardener. I have find that as soon as I realize I’ve touched the stuff, I immediately take some soil and rub it where ever PI has touched my skin. The soil breaks down the oils and I haven’t had a case since I started doing this.

jerry mulligan (@guest_135039)
2 years ago

I use Ivy Dry, which should be available at a drug store.

Spike (@guest_210460)
1 year ago
Reply to  jerry mulligan

Ivy Dry is great once you have the rash. When it first came to market many years ago the package included some popsicle sticks used to “itch open” the rash. Then the product was applied and literally within a day the rash would dry up.

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