When your skin comes into contact with the urushiol from the plant, there is an allergic reaction with this oil from the plant. Some people do not get that allergic reaction, but the oils from the damaged or bruised plant can cause severe itching and can also lead to poison ivy blisters. The degree to which your skin will react to the oil from the plant depends on the amount of exposure you had to the plant, how long you took to wash it off your skin, and how sensitive your body is to this urushiol.
The urushiol actually forms a bond with your skin which makes it difficult to wash off. You should wash off the skin as soon as you have been exposed to these oils to try to prevent any blisters from poison ivy to form in the first place, although, unfortunately, this is not always a sure way that you will not get any blisters. The longer these oils are in contact with your skin, the worse the damage will be, and the more difficult it will be to treat. You should take care of it immediately as well because you could get a bacterial infection if one of the blisters should burst, or if you have any broken skin around the area. Poison ivy blisters can be extremely painful and extremely itchy at the same time and you will be very uncomfortable until the effects from the plant has worn off, which could take as long as two weeks. You need to seek medical advice if the area becomes inflamed or infected so that the damage to the area does not spread to other surrounding tissue. The treatment that you will use on the blisters would depend on the severity of the damage caused to the skin.
Your blisters may leak or ooze fluids; as unappealing as this sounds, you can take solace in the fact that this is normal. The fluid is a product of your body, not the poison ivy sap, so it is not contagious.
Immediate Care for Poison Ivy Blisters
You can try to dry out the blisters by using warm air or hot water. A hot shower is essential to help soothe the pain, and some people recommend pointing a hair dryer at the affected area, as that heat will aid in drying out the blisters.
Tincture of iodine is a weak iodine solution which acts as a disinfectant. This can be rubbed onto the affected area with a cotton wipe. If this is applied to the rash before blisters form, it could well prevent any blisters whatsoever. It is possible, though, that you only realise that you have been affected by this plant once blisters have already formed, in which case you can still apply this solution to prevent the blisters from growing and oozing further.
Some of the creams and ointments that you can buy over the counter or obtain from your doctor will also help to dry the blisters out which will make them a little easier to manage and which will give the new skin a chance to grow back quicker and healthier underneath where the poison ivy blisters used to be. Benadryl (diphenhydramine) is one of the most well-known and widely used treatments for these blisters, as well as rashes, as it is an allergy medication which is easily available over-the-counter. This can be used in the form of a cream directly on the blisters, or it can be ingested.
Running a bath with hot water (as hot as you can stand; do no scald your skin), and adding 2 to 3 cups of Epsom salts is also known to help. For a more localized and severe reaction, you could soak a piece of gauze in a more concentrated mixture of the salts and water, and wrap that around the blistery skin. This will aid in preventing the severe oozing of the blisters that you may experience.
What Not to do When You Have These Blisters
It may be tempting for you to pop the blisters and get the fluid out, but this is never a good idea, because the exposed flesh under the skin of the blister will then be more susceptible to bacterial infections. If one of the blisters does pop, you will need to keep it clean and treat it like you would any other open wound. You need to keep infections well away from this area because you will already be in so much pain and discomfort from the blisters that the last thing you will need is an infection to add to your misery. And whatever you do, never apply bleach directly onto an open wound, as the chemicals will cause far worse trauma.
As hard as it may be, you must not scratch these blisters and you could tear the skin. Rather try the hairdryer trick in order to provide some temporary relief from the itchiness.
Take note of these tips on what to do:
- Try to wash off the skin immediately after being exposed. If you have rubbing alcohol, you can use this first and then wash the area with cold water. Do not use hot water to rinse the poison off and do not scrub the area as you may cause the poison to penetrate your skin if it has not done so already.
- Do not use soap on your skin until you are sure that all of the urushiol has been washed off properly. This oily residue from the plant can get onto your soap and then be spread onto the rest of your body. You should also make sure that you cleaned your fingernails properly as well after treating the area so that you are sure that you won’t spread the urushiol to other parts of your body or to anyone else through contact with your nails.
- Do not go inside, because if you get the poison from the exposed area onto your hands or into contact with anything else inside, you can actually spread the rash to others. Poison ivy blisters are not contagious, but the poison from the plant can be spread from you to an object and onto someone else.
Recommendations to Minimize Scarring
Many of us do not like to look at our battle scars where others like to brag about where they got them from. Like them or not, the scar that is left from these poison ivy blisters that popped and were not taken care of is not exactly something to boast about, and these scars can be there for life if not prevented and taken care of.
Below are a few of the things you can do to make sure that you do not come away from this experience with scars to prove it:
- Do not scratch!
- Make sure you wash off the poison properly before it can bond with your skin
- Do not burst blisters
- Once the blisters have dried you can get a cream from the doctor to apply
- Use Vitamin E oil on the area once it has sealed off and healed, but not before it has healed completely.
You can also ask your doctor about prescribing an antihistamine which might help with the itching so that you do not scratch or pick at the blisters. Hydrogen Peroxide can also be used to keep the blistered area clean and germ free which will then also help the healing process along.
Conceal the area from the sun while it is healing, but make sure that it can still breathe and is kept dry. UV rays have a discoloring effect on scars and can make it look a lot worse than it actually was. Looks are not always all that important, but taking care of yourself and staying healthy is the best medicine for everyone.