Wednesday, September 16, 2015

What Worked for Me: Poison Ivy

I've always been very allergic to poison ivy. I swell terribly. My skin gets so torn up by it; it takes me several months to fully heal. Since I have a long, miserable history with this menace, I am going to share what I normally do and what I have recently learned.*

For the last week, Caleb, 13, has had the worst poison ivy I've seen to date. He knew he came in contact with the plant. I gave him specific instruction on how to wash it off. He "forgot." 

I make and use goat's milk soap. I soap up my entire body paying special attention to the areas that had contact with the plant, turn the water off, and leave the soap on for five minutes. Then I rinse. I repeat this three times. I have found this effective for reducing the incidence of rashes in myself by 90%. I have not had a serious rash in over ten years using this method. My eldest daughter wipes alcohol over the exposed areas after this procedure. If you are a forgetful teen, it doesn't help you much! Poor Caleb!

As Caleb's rash grew and the swelling creeped up his legs, Clint and I became concerned. We were advised not to take him to the Dr unless it got to a certain point due to a rampant stomach virus. 

Caleb's rash was large and painful to look at! He had blisters on top of blisters. The weeping overflowed the bandages and would run down his legs to puddle at his feet. His ankle on the worst leg disappeared from the swelling. One leg was twice the size of normal. However, he said it didn't feel as bad as it looked. As the swelling spread, we asked him if he wanted to ignore warning we received about the flu and get it looked at. He said no, having the stomach flu on top of the poison ivy would be too horrible to imagine. "Puking, pooing, AND itching? I'm good, really!" 

For the weepy stage, I've used Epsom salts for a couple of decades now. Epsom salts can be put into a tub or a container for a soak. We also add them to a bowl of water for washcloth compresses. We have also put the Epsom salts in a ball in a washcloth secured by a rubber band. We'd dip the ball of Epsom salts in water to dissolve a little salt and dab it on the rash when soaking was not convenient. Crystals form on the skin as you continue to apply. This helped us with the itching and weeping. 

For swelling, we use elevation and ice packs. We learned the magnesium in the Epsom salts also helps with this symptom.

Our "go to" OTC product for poison ivy is diphenhydramine hydrochloride (Benadryl). This works to reduce the body's release of histamines in response to the allergen, poison ivy. By itself, it did not provide Caleb much relief even when we doubled the dose per doctor's advice. While there are plant based anti-histamines, none of these seemed to be strong enough to help with the fierce itching of poison ivy.

Once the weepy stage is over, the skin affected by a poison ivy rash is inflamed and irritated. The skin can crack and sores form with scabs. Previously, I have tried OTC ointments and creams as well as several types of herbal salves and ointments. Most of these only serve to hold in heat which makes inflammation and itching worse. So, with Caleb, I decided to try something new. 

As a soapmaker, I knew milk is a wonderful emollient and humectant. It hydrates, softens, and smooths skin. The lactic acid lifts dead skin cells off and leaves skin feeling smoother. Having all of that broken skin makes contracting an infection much easier. As a medicinal herbalist, I am aware honey is antibacterial and also has many health benefits that would help speed healing. (search term "honey bandage" for further research)

Regular soaks in the tub were only giving him up to 30 minutes of relief. I wish you could have seen his skeptical face when I told him what we were going to try. 

I told Caleb to pour honey into his hands and gently spread it on his legs while he stood in the tub waiting for it to fill. He added dried milk to the water. I told him once he sat in the tub to let the honey dissolve naturally into the water. The first night, I told him to soak in the milk and honey for two hours. When he got out, the results were dramatic! The angry red skin had turned a light pink, swelling was down, and the area looked cleaner. He said the itching was gone and his skin did not pull so much when he walked and flexed his knees. Everyone who saw him before the bath said his legs were noticeably improved afterwards. He had relief for several hours.

He has been soaking in the tub for an hour in the morning, afternoon, and night. He's used 4 cups of dried milk and approximately 1/2 cup of honey in each bath. 

We have also been mixing milk and honey in a bowl of warm water until it is dissolved. Then we cool the liquid with ice cubes. We get washcloths "wet but not drippy." We put these washcloths on his legs and changed them out every 15-20 minutes. This is a convenient way to continue treatment so he can continue his homeschool work on his computer.

Caleb's rash is the worst but is healing faster than any I've ever had to treat of myself or my children. 

After the rash has passed the "heat" stage, I will switch to comfrey and goldenseal salve. Goldenseal has many healing properties including antibacterial. Comfrey is a cell proliferator. That means it speeds healing by turning the cells over at a faster rate. I've had excellent results in healing wounds with comfrey, so much so, that a friend's doctor has recently asked if they could buy my salve after comfrey healed his split foot when nothing else was working. This is the same comfrey salve that had rave reviews from an ER doc who saw Amanda's bruises a day or two after her roll over accident. God put good medicine in the comfrey plant. I encourage you to learn how to identify, grow, and use it.

*I share this information not intending to replace medical advice but simply to share what worked in my home as I sought natural help for my child during a time when going to the doctor was not the best choice due to a viral outbreak. I encourage you to seek help from a medical professional if you feel it is necessary. If you choose to implement the same things as I, then you alone are solely responsible for the results. In all things, do your own research and use knowledge with wisdom.