9 Home Remedies For Poison Oak Itch + When To See A Doctor

Natural and effective solutions to relieve the itching caused by this shrub.

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Saba, BHMS, MD
By Sanchari Bhattacharya, Certificate Of Natural Medicine

Have you ever had to abruptly cut short your camping trip because you had an allergic reaction to a leaf that you touched accidentally? Do you find yourself itching and scratching after cuddling with your pet who just walked into your house? Chances are, you or your pet may have come in contact with the dreaded poison oak that is causing you this misery. What is poison oak? How do you deal with this itch? Read this article to know all about the home remedies for poison oak.

Stylecraze Trivia
Firefighters and forest service employees are affected the most by poison oak exposure.

What Is Poison Oak?

Toxicodendron diversilobum, otherwise known as poison oak, is a vine-like shrub that belongs to the sumac family. Commonly found in the western parts of North America and Canada, this plant is notorious for causing extreme itching in humans and animals. You can identify this plant with its dull green leaves that have several tiny hair-like structures all around them. They bear a similar appearance to that of oak tree leaves, hence the name poison oak.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, 90% of the American population would develop an allergic reaction on exposure to poison oak (1). Similar to poison ivy, poison oak also contains a toxic chemical called urushiol that is responsible for causing these allergic reactions. Urushiol is an oil-like substance that is generally present on the leaves and stems of the plant. When urushiol comes in contact with your skin, it can cause severe itching and rashes. According to the CDC, you can also develop rashes, itching, and lung irritation when you inhale the smoke from burnt poison oak (2).

Stylecraze Trivia
Urushiol gets its name from the Japanese word “urushi” which, funnily enough, is the name of the Japanese lacquer tree.

You can experience this allergic reaction even through indirect contact when

  • You touch tools that have been used to cut poison oak.
  • Come in contact with another person who has been exposed to urushiol.
  • Touching clothing or surfaces that have been exposed to urushiol.

In some cases, the allergic reaction to poison oak may not be instant and it can take up to 24-48 hours for the symptoms to appear. What are these symptoms? Let’s find out in the next section.

What Are The Symptoms Of Poison Oak Exposure?

Urushiol oil is the main ingredient of poison oak that causes an allergic reaction. If you can wash it off immediately, you stand a chance to reduce the severity of the symptoms or even possibly prevent them (1). However if the situation does not permit you to wash it off, these are some of the symptoms you will encounter:

  • Redness
  • Severe itching
  • Swelling
  • Bumps, patches, and weeping blisters (2)

Some of these symptoms can last for a couple of days and in some cases even up to a week or longer. There is no specific treatment for poison oak allergies, but only remedies to make the symptoms bearable (1).

Speaking of remedies, here are a few home remedies for poison oak that you may want to try.

Natural Remedies For Poison Oak Itch

Acting quickly and being mindful is key in preventing the aggravation of allergic reactions. You may try a few of these natural remedies for poison oak allergy.

  • Avoid Scratching Your Skin
Avoid scratching your skin

Shutterstock

The first and the most important thing to do is resist the urge to scratch yourself. By scratching yourself all over, you are likely to spread urushiol all over your body and increase the number of affected areas. Also by scratching yourself, you may accidentally burst blisters that could be painful (3).

  • Cold Compress
Cold compress for poison oak itch

Shutterstock

Applying a cold compress on the inflamed area may help soothe it and provide temporary relief (4). You can dampen a towel in ice-cold water and gently place it on the affected area. Repeat this process 3-4 times a day.

  • Take An Oatmeal Bath
Take an oatmeal bath for poison oak itch

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Taking a bath with colloidal oatmeal might help reduce the inflammation and relieve the itchiness (5). Colloidal oatmeal has been traditionally used to treat various inflammatory skin conditions.

  • Try Some Witch Hazel
Try some witch hazel for poison oak itch

Shutterstock

Witch hazel is known to be a natural astringent and contains anti-inflammatory properties. Topically applying witch hazel extracts on the affected area may help reduce the inflammation and provide momentary relief (6 7).

  • Try Applying Some Manuka Honey
Try applying manuka honey for poison oak itch

Shutterstock

Manuka honey is a popular choice in home remedies for treating various skin conditions due to its antibacterial properties and anti-inflammatory properties. It is also known for alleviating the itchy symptoms of dermatitis. Applying manuka honey to the affected area may help relieve the itching (8).

  • Try Baking Soda

Baking soda may also help provide relief from the effects of poison oak allergy. Research suggests adding a cup of baking soda to lukewarm or cold water and taking a bath to reduce the itching (9).

  • Try Using Jewelweed

Jewelweed or the spotted “touch me not” when used as a mash can help relieve the itching caused by poison oak. However, using jewelweed extracts in the form of soaps and gels is not as effective as fresh mash (9).

  • Apply Chamomile And Lavender Essential Oils

Lavender and chamomile essential oils have anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic properties. Topical application of these oils may help relieve the burning sensation and itching caused by poison oak (10), (11).

  • Use Bentonite Clay

Studies suggest that bentonite clay could act as a barrier and prevent the spread of toxins to other parts of the skin. Using creams and lotions that contain quaternium-18 bentonite could be effective in treating poison oak allergies (12).

Apart from these home remedies, there are a few other remedies that you can try to help reduce the itching caused by poison oak.

Other Remedies For Poison Oak Itch

  • Take Prescription Steroids

Steroids like prednisone may help ease the itching (13). However, since this is a prescription medication and a very potent drug, taking it without a doctor’s consultation is not recommended.

  • Use Calamine Lotion

You can try and use calamine lotion on your rash. Apart from reducing the itching, it can have a cooling effect and help reduce inflammation. You can re-apply this lotion whenever it dries out.

  • Take Oral Antihistamines

Oral consumption of OTC antihistamines such as diphenhydramine or cetirizine may help reduce some of the symptoms. However, topical application of these creams is not advised as they may potentially worsen the situation (3).

These remedies for poison oak are only meant to provide temporary relief from the symptoms. There is no other option but to let the symptoms run their course. In most cases, poison oak allergies tend to subside by themselves in a week or so, but what if they don’t? Read the next section to understand when you need to seek medical assistance.

When To See A Doctor

You will need to see a doctor if any of the following conditions are applicable to you.

  • If the rash spreads to over 25% of your body.
  • Blisters are formed and are filled with yellow pus with scales around them.
  • The itching worsens and affects your sleep.
  • You find rashes developing near your mouth, eyes, and genital regions.
  • You find it difficult to breathe.
  • You develop a fever of 100℉ and above.

People who experience conditions like breathing difficulties and high fever must immediately seek medical attention.

In conclusion, poison oak allergies can make you feel very itchy and can cause blisters and skin lesions. A toxin called urushiol that is present in poison oak, causes these allergic reactions. There is no treatment available for this allergy. However, there are a few poison oak remedies such as using colloidal oatmeal, essential oils, and oral antihistamines, that you can use to relieve some of the symptoms. The only thing that can completely cure this allergic reaction is time.

Frequently Asked Questions

Will poison oak go away by itself?

Yes, the rashes may disappear after 2-3 weeks. However, it is best to use home remedies to help fasten the healing.

How can you tell the difference between poison ivy and poison oak?

The leaves of poison ivy are pointed and grow in clusters of threes, while the leaves of poison oak are less pointy, rounded, and have a hair-like surface.

Why is my poison oak rash spreading?

The poison oak rash may seem to spread, but they do not. They might be new rashes forming on areas that came into contact with the plant oil that causes the rash.

Is Epsom salt bath good for poison oak?

Yes, an Epsom salt bath may help reduce the itch and heal the skin due to its anti-inflammatory properties (14).

Key Takeaways

  • Also known as Toxicodendron diversilobum, poison oak is a vine-like shrub from the sumac family.
  • Redness, severe itching, swelling, bumps, patches, and weeping blisters are the symptoms of poison oak exposure.
  • Avoid scratching your skin, take an oatmeal bath, try witch hazel, and apply chamomile and lavender essential oils to prevent poison oak itch.

Sources

Articles on StyleCraze are backed by verified information from peer-reviewed and academic research papers, reputed organizations, research institutions, and medical associations to ensure accuracy and relevance. Read our editorial policy to learn more.

  1. The Effects of Acute Antioxidative Ingestion on Contact Dermatitis brought on by Urushiol Exposure (in vivo)
    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/282030964_The_Effects_of_Acute_Antioxidative_Ingestion_on_Contact_Dermatitis_brought_on_by_Urushiol_Exposure_in_vivo
  2. Poisonous Plants
    https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2010-118/pdfs/2010-118.pdf
  3. Toxicodendron Contact Dermatitis: A Case Report and Brief Review
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/labs/pmc/articles/PMC7733371/
  4. Role of Cold Therapy and Hot Therapy in Sports Injuries
    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/346075542_Role_of_Cold_Therapy_and_Hot_Therapy_in_Sports_Injuries_SPORTS_INJURIES
  5. Anti-Inflammatory Activities of Colloidal Oatmeal (Avena sativa) Contribute to the Effectiveness of Oats in Treatment of Itch Associated With Dry Irritated Skin
    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/271332623_Anti-Inflammatory_Activities_of_Colloidal_Oatmeal_Avena_sativa_Contribute_to_the_Effectiveness_of_Oats_in_Treatment_of_Itch_Associated_With_Dry_Irritated_Skin
  6. Antioxidant And Potential Anti-Inflammatory Activity Of Extracts And Formulations Of White Tea Rose And Witch Hazel On Primary Human Dermal Fibroblast Cells
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/labs/pmc/articles/PMC3214789/
  7. Honey: A Therapeutic Agent for Disorders of the Skin
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/labs/pmc/articles/PMC5661189/
  8. Final Report on the Safety Assessment of Sodium Sesquicarbonate Sodium Bicarbonate and Sodium Carbonate
    https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.3109/10915818709095491
  9. The Effectiveness Of Jewelweed
    Impatiens Capensis The Related Cultivar I. Balsamina And The Component Lawsone In Preventing Post Poison Ivy Exposure Contact Dermatitis
  10. Effect of lavender essential oil on LPS-stimulated inflammation
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22809036/
  11. Using Chamomile Solution Or A 1% Topical Hydrocortisone Ointment In The Management Of Peristomal Skin Lesions In Colostomy Patients: Results Of A Controlled Clinical Study
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21617262/
  12. Bentonite Clay as a Natural Remedy: A Brief Review
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/labs/pmc/articles/PMC5632318/
  13. Calamine Lotion To Reduce Skin Irritation In Children With Cast Immobilisation
    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/256470315_Calamine_Lotion_to_Reduce_Skin_Irritation_in_Children_with_Cast_Immobilisation
  14. Bathing in a magnesium-rich Dead Sea salt solution improves skin barrier function, enhances skin hydration, and reduces inflammation in atopic dry skin
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15689218/
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Sanchari has over 10 years of experience as a teacher and a writer and has done a certificate course in... more

Dr. Saba

(BHMS, MD)
Dr. Saba is a gold medalist with 6+ years of clinical experience. She specializes in treating both chronic and acute... more

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