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How Do I Treat Poison Ivy Blisters?

By Matt Brady
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Poison ivy blisters are best treated by washing the body thoroughly to get rid of any trace of the allergen, urushiol. Urushiol is a sappy substance found all throughout the poison ivy plant as well as in poison oak and sumac; as long as it remains in any contact with the skin, rashes and blisters will persist. Once completely clean, there aren't so much ways to speed up the healing process as there are ways to make it more livable. This can be done by taking antihistamines, applying soothing lotions, or taking prescription medication. You should also take care to avoid scratching itches, which may spread the rash, and especially don't pop poison ivy blisters, which can cause infection.

The first step of treating blisters is to quickly wash any skin that touched poison ivy. Poison ivy's allergen, urushiol, spreads easily, and the only way to prevent it from doing so is to wash it off. Washing it off also prevents it from doing further damage to affected areas. Be sure to get under the fingernails as well, where urushiol can become trapped. You should also remove and clean any clothes, apparel, or other objects that may have touched the plant.

Some suggest using rubbing alcohol in the cleaning process, as it can help dry up blisters. Don't, however, use rubbing alcohol on open sores, such as popped blisters. It isn't dangerous to your health, but the pain of alcohol on open wounds is excruciating.

Any poison ivy blisters that have formed will undoubtedly burn and itch, but it's important that you resist the temptation to scratch them. If you've washed up thoroughly, itching the blisters probably won't cause the rash to spread, but it may cause them to pop. A popped blister can easily become infected. Infections can turn your manageable condition into something that may need medical attention.

Applying cool, wet compresses can help soothe the skin. Likewise, you might also find it soothing to take a cold shower or bath. Relief might also be found by taking an ice cube and rubbing it lightly over the poison ivy rash.

Taking antihistamines may also help reduce itching. The drowsy effects of antihistamines may also help you sleep and take your mind off the discomfort. Calamine lotion is another good way to treat the uncomfortable symptoms of poison ivy blisters. Calamine can be found over-the-counter at many retail drug stores.

If poison ivy blisters persist, you may need to see a doctor. Doctors can prescribe stronger substances that will knock out severe cases of poison ivy. In such cases, you may be prescribed corticosteroid pills or shots. Doctors can also prescribe extra-strength lotions and creams.

Making Yourself Comfortable

Since you should avoid popping poison ivy blisters at all costs, you should focus on making poison ivy recovery as comfortable as you can for yourself. Besides washing off the toxin urushiol from your skin and removing the clothing in question, time is the main healer for poison ivy blisters.

As we’ve mentioned, resist the urge (though it can be overwhelming) to scratch at your blisters. Your fingernails harbor microbes and dirt that can infect a popped blister. If you end up popping a blister or two, wash the area with antibacterial soap and then pat it dry. 

Keep the area dry for as long as you can stand it, but then you can apply antibiotic ointment to the open sore and cover it with a breathable bandage.

Methods of Relief

Calamine lotion is the number one go-to for poison ivy blisters. It doesn’t make them disappear, but it reduces the pain and discomfort, especially the itching, that they produce. It can speed up your recovery by taking your mind off how much the blisters itch. 

Cortisone cream may become your best friend through this ordeal. These are available over the counter, and they’re also used to make mosquito bites stop itching. Other topical options include lotions or ointments with menthol or eucalyptus, such as the perennial Asian favorite, Tiger Balm.

Benadryl or similar antihistamines, as we’ve mentioned, may reduce swelling. However, they can also cause drowsiness which is a bonus if your rashes and blisters keep you from getting to sleep. If you want to use antihistamines but need to avoid drowsiness, you can try loratadine, which goes by the brand name Claritin. It’ll keep you perky and may relieve your urge to scratch.

How Long Does It Take for Poison Ivy Blisters To Go Away?

Suppose you get over-the-counter creams and antihistamines and do the proper initial thorough cleaning so that no sticky urushiol remains on your body or clothing. In that case, your poison ivy blisters should steadily shrink, decrease, and disappear on their own. 

However, be prepared for this process to take two to three weeks. It can feel like an eternity, but it is important to practice vigilance with these relief methods to mitigate the risk of infection from open sores.

Open sores occur when blisters pop. Sometimes this is inevitable—you can simply be performing everyday activities when you feel moisture on your skin, and then you realize that a poison ivy blister has opened. It’s also part of the healing process. But to avoid a visit to the doctor, you need to clean this area as we’ve mentioned and protect it from infection.

What if My Poison Ivy Blister(s) Get Infected?

If you do end up with an infection, even after daily attention to your injuries and practicing restraint when scratching them, you may still end up with foreign bodies coming into contact with your broken blister and contracting an infection.

If this happens, you can simply wash out the blister with antibacterial soap, pat dry, air dry, and then spray with Bactine before bandaging the area. However, if the infection hasn’t gone down within the next 24 hours (redness, swelling, sensitivity to touch, pain), you need to go to the doctor.

The doctor will likely clean the area once more and prescribe an oral antibiotic to fight the infection. Most antibiotics take five days to a week, so this will be just another part of your daily activities to manage your pain and discomfort from your poison ivy blisters.

Things to Avoid

First, you must thoroughly wash any clothing that comes into contact with the poison ivy. If you really covered yourself with it, it may be best to safely dispose of the clothing (bagging it up, so some poor soul doesn’t fall into the same fate) altogether.

Avoid scratching the affected areas as much as you possibly can. For example, wearing socks, pants, and long sleeves can help remind you not to scratch, and you can even wear gloves or socks over your hands so that you physically cannot scratch.

Strenuous activity that will cause your skin to rub against itself, clothing, or equipment should be avoided, which will only cause irritation and more urge to scratch, and if it causes you to perspire, your sweat will sting your blisters and sores.

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Discussion Comments
By anon311134 — On Dec 29, 2012

One guy at work asked for sex. I refused because he looks as if he should live under a bridge and is very ugly inside.

Since that time, he started spreading poison ivy solutions he makes in oil on my keyboard, mouse and desk at work. They all looked oily and I did not know why I got a poison ivy rash without going outside.

A doctor confirmed it and I reported that, but at work they told me that it was accidentally spread. He turns the monitoring cameras off and continues to spread and started to spread it in the ladies restroom at work, because it might be his only way to reach naked women.

The counselor they sent me to turned out not to be allergic to poison ivy, but her mother-in-law had been allergic and naturally she hated me as she hates her mother in law. No help.

Please, give advice how to make him stop to save the women in an ethical institution. Management is behind him, not behind the women, because they never go to the ladies restroom or sit at my desk.

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