Q: Every summer my child manages to find his way into a patch of poison ivy. What's the best way to treat it and minimize the reaction?
A: The irony of summer: You itch to get outdoors all winter, and when you finally do, you end up scratching from poison ivy, oak, or sumac (not to mention bug bites). The oil found in the leaves, roots, and stems of these three plants--urushiol--is one of the worst culprits. Wherever the oil goes, a rash will follow in sensitive folks, usually within one to three days. If he still gets a rash despite your best efforts (thoroughly washing your kid, his clothes, pets, and backyard toys after outdoor jaunts), an over-the-counter antihistamine, such as Benadryl, can help with the itching. Cooling the skin, either with lukewarm oatmeal baths, the use of astringents such as Domeboro soaks, or even a cool washcloth can be very soothing. Aveeno makes an oatmeal-bath solution, or whip up your own by grinding about a cup of any kind of oatmeal in the food processor until it's a fine powder, and then add it to the running water. An anti-itch cream such as calamine lotion or a mild hydrocortisone ointment (used sparingly and only on the worst areas) can also help. In severe cases, such as with face and eye swelling, your doctor may prescribe a steroid medication by mouth. This will work like a charm but needs to be tapered off over at least two weeks to prevent a resurgence of the rash, so follow instructions carefully.
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Lara Zibners, M.D. This pediatrician mom penned the hilarious and helpful If Your Kid Eats This Book, Everything Will Still Be Okay. Write to her at email@example.com.