There it is. That telltale rash that, like some sort of itchy, weeping brail, speaks of your time in the forest and an encounter with Poison Ivy and its clusters of leaves. Actually, it’s the sap of the plant, a chemical called urushiol, which results in the rash (an overreaction of our body). The entire ordeal can range from moderately uncomfortable to maybe-it’s-time-to-burn-this-skin-off agonizing. But however severe the rash is during the day, it’s always worse when you lay down for bed.
When we have poison ivy, sleep, that sacred time we should be healing, is spent tossing, turning and trying not scratch or get our sores stuck to the sheets (eww). According to Dr. Christine Choi Kim, some of the best ways of lessening the itch are oral anti-histamines (“Benadryl works well to combat it — and, bonus, it will make you drowsy,” says Kim), topical, non-steroidal anti-itch creams with menthol, camphor or pramoxine and that old standby calamine lotion. In addition, Kim, a San Diego-area Dermatologist, has some tips for avoiding nighttime discomfort. Follow them and you’ll be sleeping comfortably, rather than scratching the night away.
Set the Thermostat
The last thing you want to do when suffering from a rash is encounter heat. “Sweating can exacerbate your already irritated skin,” says Kim. So keep the temperature of your room cool and comfortable (This will most likely boost your general sleep quality too)
Go Au Natural
In terms of fabrics, that is. Natural, breathable fabrics like cotton, linen or bamboo keep things cool, thus preventing any nighttime flair ups. Speaking of sheets: It’s not necessary to wash your sheets unless they have come in contact with other clothing or objects that have been contaminated by the oils.
Dress it Up
To prevent the weeping lesions painfully sticking to your bedsheets, apply a dressing such as Telfa to affected areas. This will also prevent your sheets from getting stained.
Cover Your Hands
Poison Ivy’s itch can be unbearable. If you find yourself scratching at night, try wearing cotton gloves to minimize the trauma to your skin. “Any minor cuts and scrapes can be an entry point for bacterial infection,” says Kim.
Two More Important Treatment Tips
1. Wash — or throw away — All Contaminated Clothing
“When in doubt, throw it out,” says Kim. If you want to save your items, then wash them in the hottest water setting for the longest wash cycle possible and with the most water possible. Wearing long rubber gloves will prevent you from accidentally re-exposing yourself while you are doing the wash. “Urushiol can remain stable for years on objects,” says Kim. “If you keep getting new lesions over several weeks, then you are most likely re-exposing yourself to the culprit. Patients often think the rash is spreading to other parts of the body, when in fact they are inadvertently re-exposing themselves to items that still have residue on them.”
2. Avoid Remedies that Call for Extreme Heat or Extreme Cold
Despite the short-term relief these home remedies may provide, you’re ultimately doing more harm than good. “Pain and temperature and itch receptors are all on the same nerve pathways so you're basically distracting yourself from the itch,” says Kim. “Extreme temperatures provide temporary relief but you're not getting at the real issue.” And you could develop a burn or frostbite with scalding water or an ice pack, respectively, she warns.