How to treat a poison oak rash

Poison Oak: Prevention, Symptoms, Treatment.

Wilderness First Aid

Learn the symptoms, how to prevent and how to treat a poison oak rash. The general rule of thumb is "leaves of three... LET IT BE." That is sound advice, but unfortunately if you spend enough time in the outdoors you are going to end up saying leaves of three... Oh pity me. Follow these steps in hopes of avoiding poison oak.

Best Poison Oak Treatment is Prevention

The very best poison oak treatment is not having to treat it all. If you are hiking or camping in an area where poison oak is prevalent, follow these steps to hopefully prevent a painful poison oak outbreak.

1) When you are on the trail make sure to wear long pants, high socks and cover all skin that could be exposed.

2) Before you take off your shoes (and if hiking in any area known for Poison Oak), make sure to rinse them thoroughly with water and/or clean with rubbing alcohol.  Urushiol oil on your boots can lead to an outbreak on your hands.

3) When you get into your tent, make sure to leave the pup outside as oil on its fur can spread easily (and your companion may not have respected the “stay on the trail” rule).  Also carefully take off clothing, making sure to avoid any areas that could have brushed a plant.

4) Once your fun is done, take any item that may have been exposed and wash them immediately - oil can remain on unwashed clothing for years.

5) Make sure your trail first aid kit has appropriate medicines to treat poison oak and make sure to replenish/replace if need be.


Poison Oak Symptoms

If you are unlucky and make contact with Poison Oak (or what you think may be Poison Oak), look for these signs (what you see) and symptoms (what you feel):

1) Poison Oak Signs:  Itchy skin, redness or red streaking, hives, swelling, blisters that appear to form streaks and crusting of the skin once the blisters burst.  Signs and symptoms can start to show hours after contact or several days later, depending on your sensitivity.

2) Poison Oak Symptoms:  The rash itself is extremely itchy.  You can spread the rash by expanding the area the Urushiol oil touches to other areas of skin.  Poison Oak cannot be spread by touching the rash or bodily fluids. It can ONLY be spread by contact with the Urushiol oil.

Treatment for Poison Oak

1) If you realize you were just exposed, immediately and thoroughly wash the area with warm soapy water and/or rubbing alcohol, paying special attention to your hands and under your nails as you don’t want to spread it to other parts of your body.

2) Wash anything that may have the sticky Urushiol oil on it.  That includes your pets if need be.

3) If you don’t know you’ve been exposed until the rash appears, immediately scrub your hands per the suggestion above.  From there, get out your first aid kit with special attention to not touch anything that may have been exposed.  Apply your medicine of choice.  Some options are barrier creams that prevent the oil from spreading until you can you wash off.  Or you can treat the infected area using calamine lotion, non-prescription hydrocortisone cream or an antihistamine.

4) If a poison oak rash is anywhere near your eyes, covering large swaths of your body or accidentally inhaled (if it is burning) seek medical attention immediately.