How To Treat Poison Ivy When You're Camping

Brushing up against poison ivy — and similar plants like poison oak and sumac — is never any fun. Actually, it's quite miserable. However, as miserable as having a poison ivy rash at home can be, it is often even worse while camping. This is because while out in nature you likely won't have access to some of the normal poison ivy remedies like a warm oatmeal bath or calamine lotion. So, what can you do to help treat poison ivy while camping?

There are a few options and your choice will depend on what supplies you have with you. Firstly, if you know you have touched poison ivy you can try washing off the rash-causing oils before they seep into your skin. According to the University of Rhode Island, the majority of the oil from poison ivy will be absorbed by your skin within 10 minutes, so the best option is to wash the affected area within that time frame. However, washing your skin within two hours of touching poison ivy can also greatly reduce the severity of the rash. 

To wash off the oils, first run the affected area under clean lukewarm water. If available, you can also wash your skin with dish soap. Another proven option is to wipe the area down with rubbing alcohol or alcohol-based wipes and then rinse.

What if the rash has already developed?

If you already have a poison ivy rash, your treatment options will be all about managing symptoms — the worst of which is the itching and pain. According to Medical News Today, effective ways to help with these symptoms include taking an antihistamine (like Benadryl or another non-drowsy version) and applying an anti-itch cream like hydrocortisone. It's also a good idea to keep calamine lotion in your first-aid kit at all times because it is specifically meant to help treat poison ivy and can provide relief.

If you don't have these items with you at camp but are relatively close to civilization, you can always make a quick stop at the pharmacy in the nearest town to pick some up. Otherwise, the best way to treat poison ivy is to keep the area cool. You can make a cool compress by dampening a cloth and holding it against the affected area multiple times a day. You can also try applying aloe vera and refrain from activities that make you sweat as sweat and heat can aggravate symptoms.

Leave the rash uncovered and try not to scratch

Besides treating the symptoms of poison ivy, you will also want to create the best conditions to allow your rash to heal. Poison ivy rashes can last anywhere from one to three weeks. However, you can help the rash heal more quickly by leaving it uncovered. This is important because, like most rashes, those caused by poison ivy heal faster when kept dry and exposed to air. If you feel it is necessary to prevent infection, you can wrap your rash loosely in clean gauze. However, you should always make sure that air is still able to get in and out of the bandaged area.

Another way to help your rash heal more quickly is to prevent infection, and the best way to do this is by not scratching it. This is because when scratching, the bacteria that is naturally present under your fingernails will have a chance to get inside your blisters and cause the rash to get infected. According to American Family Urgent Care, some signs that your rash is infected include running a fever and excess pain and redness in the affected area. These infections can end up being serious and will require treatment with antibiotics or antifungal medication.