The actual rash that results from the poisonous plants is a form of contact dermatitis, and this dermatitis is what causes the skin irritation. Poison ivy swelling may occur, and this will be normal, however if your face is affected and your eyes swell shut, the services of a doctor may be needed.
It is an Allergic Reaction
An allergic reaction comes about from a sensitivity to certain substances known as allergens. Most reactions happen soon after contact with an allergen, and are mostly mild, but some can be life threatening. Poison ivy swelling can be mild in some people but may cause breathing problems with others. First time exposure may not seem too horrific, but coming into contact with poison ivy a second time may lead to more serious reactions, so do not be fooled into thinking that you may build up an immunity to the plant. Once someone has had an allergic reaction, even exposure to a small amount of poison ivy can trigger a severe reaction. Most allergic reactions occur within minutes or hours after exposure to the allergen.
The urushiol causes the skin to develop a red, itchy rash known as Rhus Dermatitis, as well as large blisters. Even when there has been a fire, poison ivy is not killed off, and inhaling the smoke from the burning ivy can cause an allergic reaction as well. While it is present in all parts of the plant, it is the sap that is most toxic.
How to Get That Swelling Down
Anti-Swelling Creams and Lotions
There are a number of creams that can be purchased at a local pharmacy. These will be designed to not only minimize your swelling, but should also assist in soothing the itch of your rash. Most of these treatments are not too expensive, so it may be a good idea to keep some in your home for any future run-ins with this pesky plant. Look out for the following:
- Zinc oxide, aloe vera gel or calamine is helpful, but if the swelling and rash is more severe, your doctor may recommend corticosteroids or antihistamines.
- Things like Benzocaine and Menthol can bring temporary relief by numbing the itch and pain of the rash. Caladryl lotion is a topical anti-itch medication and doubles up as an analgesic, soothing pain caused by skin irritation and rashes.
- Other allergy and pain medications such as Benadryl can also help to keep the swelling down. The Benadryl will knock out the histamines, which is actually what causes the swelling, and it can also be helpful in treating the itching.
- Cortisone creams are very helpful in soothing the skin and reducing swelling.
If You Prefer Homeopathic Remedies
Some people prefer to go the natural route and look for homeopathic remedies to relieve the discomfort of a poison ivy reaction. You may be surprised at some of the ingredients which may already appear in your home.
- Bryonia for instance, is known for treating dry poison ivy rashes. However this is something that you will need to purchase, either in a store or online, as some species of the plant may be poisonous.
- Colloidal oatmeal, which is different to breakfast oatmeal, will moisturize the skin and relieve itchiness. Add 2 cups to your bathtub and soak in it for some fifteen minutes. For more sever swelling or itching, you can make a thicker paste and apply it to your affected area.
- Epsom salts have many uses and you will not believe how such an inexpensive treatment can be so effective. It is the magnesium in the Epsom salts which helps to relieve the swelling and pain, and your skin absorbs the magnesium and sulphate. You simply need to soak in a tub with Epsom salts to relieve pain, swelling and inflammation.
- You may find Heating pads and ice packs in your home. Alternating between these two could help bring down your swelling considerably, and the numbness caused will also minimise your itchiness. It is recommended that you alternate these at 15-minute intervals for an hour.
- Aiming a hair dryer at the affected area can also aide in minimizing your swelling. However, set the dryer on a low heat and do not burn your skin. None of these treatments should harm your unaffected skin surrounding the rash.
Be Mindful of Treatment Ingredients
It is true that people’s immune responses are different, so that while poison ivy swelling may subside after a couple of days in your case, others may have to wait a week or two. People with sensitive skin should always be looking at the ingredients in the treatments they buy to avoid irritating chemicals, because you could so easily exacerbate the situation with the wrong kind of ingredients. Once you have found something that can help with the inflammation and the discomfort you are experiencing, you can start to actually treat the rash and blister. The sooner your skin can regenerate, the sooner your skin will start looking like it was before your nasty encounter with the poison ivy. Look out for ingredients that can assist with and stimulate cell renewal.
For Severe Symptoms
Do not play around with poison ivy, because urushiol, absorbed into the skin within three minutes, can cause extreme reactions, and that is when calling a doctor becomes a matter of life and death. Apart from poison ivy swelling, exposure to the sap from the plant can cause more severe allergic complications. Difficulty with breathing, the rash spreading close to the eyes and the genitals, the rash oozing pus accompanied with tender, and aching glands are all things you will need to keep your eyes on and try to avoid.
It can be particularly bad when the swelling from poison ivy reaches the face, causing puffiness around the eye area, by which time it will be necessary to call the doctor, as your eyes may eventually swell shut completely. Sometimes the swelling can even cause the throat to close up, thereby restricting the passageway for oxygen to get your lungs.
Anaphylaxis should not be discounted either, although very rare, those who struggle with allergy and stress problems such as asthma are at a greater risk for swelling brought on by poison ivy. So if you are an asthma sufferer, you should take great precautions when venturing outdoors in areas known for poison ivy. Also make sure that you keep your inhaler within arm’s reach, as this is something that you do not want to take any chances with. If you have severe allergies, always keep your medication (most likely an injection) with you.
Along with swelling, symptoms and signs may include:
- Abdominal pains or cramps and nausea
- Abnormal breathing sounds (high-pitched)
- Abnormal heart rhythm and high pulse
- Confusion or anxiety
If you suspect anaphylaxis, emergency medical services should be called immediately.
The term “systemic” indicates that the reaction is not a localized one. A systemic reaction is a severe one, and this could be indicated by the rash covering larger areas of your body which did not come into direct contact with the plant’s urushiol.
Apart from more spread out rashes, other signs or symptoms of a systemic reaction may include:
- Swollen lymph nodes in neck, armpits or groin
- Difficulty breathing
If these symptoms arise, medical attention is needed.
The most common cause of a systemic reaction would be though smoke inhalation. Burning poison ivy releases urushiol in the smoke, which, if inhaled, could cause inflammation of the lungs which could be life threatening. On top of that, urushiol could enter the bloodstream, and this could result in poison ivy swelling, blisters and rashes in the mouth and throat.
Thankfully, such severe poison ivy swelling and symptoms is very rare, and you may never experience such a reaction, but you should always be mindful of this. If you are ever in doubt, it will do you no harm to seek medical treatment or advice to make absolutely certain, as your life is not something you should gamble with.