When the temperature’s out to set new records, the last thing you want is the pain of poison ivy or the burn of a blister. Here we offer inexpensive, easy remedies for those familiar troubles.
Cuts and Scrapes
Insect, Spider, and Tick Bites
NOTE TO OUR READERS:
The information in this feature should not be substituted for, or used to alter, medical therapy without your doctor’s advice. For a specific health problem, consult your physician for guidance. Before using any of these remedies, especially if you have an existing medical condition, or are pregnant or breast-feeding, check with your physician. Some remedies may interact with prescription drugs, including the Pill and antidepressants; always do a 24-hour skin test before using. The publishers and author cannot accept responsibility for any damage incurred as a result of any of the therapeutic methods contained in this work.
The eternal dilemma: Should I drain this thing or leave it alone? In general, don’t bother blisters that are small or those that probably won’t pop on their own. They are less likely to become infected if you leave the natural covering intact, and under the sheltering cushion of fluid, the area has time to form new skin. Meanwhile, follow these tips to relieve the pain and itching and speed healing. If your blister is large, or in a spot where you can’t avoid putting pressure on it, drain it the proper way. Never pop a burn blister, though. There’s a serious risk of infection if you do.
You’ve most likely rubbed your skin the wrong way … literally. The most frequent cause of blisters is excessive friction on moist skin. As a blister forms, clear fluid accumulates in a pocket between the layers of the skin. Sometimes a small blood vessel in the area is damaged, and the fluid in the blister becomes tinged with blood. These types of blisters are generally found on the hands and feet, but can occur elsewhere too. Other potential blister causes include poison ivy and oak, sunburn and other burns, and eczema and other skin conditions.
Let It Be
- Keep the blister clean with soap and water. You can dab on petroleum jelly or some other emollient to minimize further friction.
- Cover the blister with a clean bandage that you change at least once a day.Protect the blister with a piece of moleskin — a soft, adhesive cushion that’s sold in pharmacies. (Don’t worry — no real moles have been sacrificed to make this product.) Leave it on for two days, and remove it carefully so it doesn’t tear the fragile skin beneath.
- Apply calendula ointment, a product made from marigold. It’s traditionally used as a soothing wound healer. To keep the ointment clean, cover it with an adhesive bandage or a gauze pad. At night, remove the bandage so the blistered area is exposed to air.
No calendula? Smear some aloe vera gel on the blister and cover it with a bandage to help it heal. But be sure you use the pure gel of the plant. Some processed products contain ingredients, like alcohol, which have a drying effect.
- Another option for blister treatment is Preparation H. While this isn’t the normal use for the hemorrhoid reliever, the cream has ingredients that relieve itching and burning, and it provides a coating that protects the skin.
- Relieve pain and itching with a wet washcloth. Soak the cloth in cold water, wring it out, and lay it over the blister.
If It Pops by Accident …
Wash it with soap and water. Apply a healing cream or gel like Neosporin or Betadine. Cover it with a bandage. Four times a day, remove the bandage and treat the raw spot with a mixture of one part tea tree oil and three parts vegetable oil. The tea tree oil will help kill bacteria and prevent an infection.
Practice the Art of Careful Draining
If your blister is large, or in a spot where you can’t avoid putting pressure on it, you may be better off draining it rather than trying to protect it. To drain a blister properly, first sterilize a needle. Use a pair of pliers or tweezers to hold the needle over a flame for a few seconds until it glows red. Let it cool.
Clean the blister with rubbing alcohol or a disinfecting product like Betadine.
Open a sterile gauze pad and lay it gently on top of the blister. Pierce the edge of the blister, sliding the needle in sideways, and gently squeeze out the liquid by pressing down on the gauze pad. Make sure you don’t tear or remove that top layer of skin — it’s protecting an extremely sensitive circle of skin beneath.
Smear on an antibiotic ointment like Neosporin and cover it with a clean bandage. You can also cover it with a 2nd Skin Moist Burn Pad, made by Spenco. This is a moist, jellylike covering that can be cut to size and taped in place. Change it twice a day.
If the blister refills again later, drain it again the same way.
Apply a mixture of vitamin E and calendula ointment to help your skin heal faster. Vitamin E comes in gel capsules. Slice open a capsule, mix equal amounts of the vitamin and calendula oil, and smear the mixture on your blister. Reapply as needed for up to a week.
Should I Call the Doctor?
If your blister is extremely large — more than two inches across — you should seek medical care. Symptoms of infection should also send you to the doctor. These include prolonged pain that isn’t fading, fever, redness that extends beyond the borders of the blister, yellow crusting, and oozing pus. Some disorders that cause blisters, such as chicken pox, eczema, and impetigo, also may require a doctor’s care.
The Power of Prevention
- Don’t assume you know your proper shoe size or that your feet haven’t changed since you last bought shoes. Have your feet measured every time you buy. And when you try on shoes, be sure you’re wearing the same kind of socks you normally wear.
- Shop for shoes in the afternoon. Your feet swell during the day, and if you buy a pair in the morning, you might be getting a half-size too small.
- Be sure new shoes are roomy in the toe area. When you’re standing up, you should have a thumb-width of space between your longest toe and the end of your shoe.
- For long walks or hikes, try wearing two pairs of socks to reduce friction. The inner pair should be a thin, sweat-wicking fabric like acrylic, with an outer sock made of cotton.
- You may also want to use an antiperspirant on your feet to keep them dry. Dry feet are less likely to develop blisters.
- Cover blister-prone spots with a lubricant, such as Lube-Stick for Runners, before you go for a run.
- If you’re going to be doing yard work, you can prevent blisters on your hands by wearing work gloves. If you always get blisters when you weed the garden, even if you wear gloves, shop for a weeder with a larger handle or a cushioned grip.
- Anyone who plays racket sports will probably have to contend with hand blisters. But if they keep recurring, talk to a pro about changing the grip on your racket or wrapping it with an absorbent, soft covering.
Cuts and Scrapes
If you can stop the bleeding and keep the wound clean to prevent infection, you’ve done your part; nature will take over from there. Required: some bandages and antibiotic ointment (doctors recommend any triple antibiotic variety). Other wound remedies that work in a pinch are within easy reach — from honey to garlic to your own saliva.
You have just sliced yourself with a sharp object — a kitchen knife, your razor, a broken drinking glass, even a piece of paper. Or you’ve had a sudden encounter with a section of concrete and lost a bit of skin on your elbow or knee. There may be visible bleeding — and perhaps an invisible invasion of bacteria into the wound, bringing a risk of infection.
Clean, Cover, and Disinfect
- To stanch bleeding, apply pressure to the wound with a clean cloth or piece of gauze. In a pinch, use your hand.
- Once bleeding has stopped, gently clean the area around the wound with soap and water. Then apply a bandage.
- You can also cleanse a cut with a tincture of calendula, a bacteria-slaying herb known for its wound-healing powers. Look for calendula succus, which is a low-alcohol formula. If you can’t find it, use the regular tincture and dilute it with a little water. To heal scrapes faster, try a calendula cream, sold in some health food stores.
- Twice a day, you can clean your cut with myrrh, which stimulates the production of white blood cells. These are the infection-fighting cells that gather at the wound site. Mix 1 teaspoon myrrh tincture (available at health food stores) with 4 ounces water. Dribble it over the cut or scrape, and allow the wound to remain exposed to the air until it dries.
- Try tea tree oil. It contains a strong antiseptic compound and is popular the world over for treating wounds. Stir 1½ teaspoons of the oil into a cup of warm water and use this to rinse cuts and scrapes.
Cures From Your Kitchen
- No antibiotic cream handy? In a pinch, dab on a little honey and then cover with a bandage. Honey has antibacterial properties, and studies have shown that it can speed wound healing. In certain cases some doctors believe that honey might even be superior to triple-antibiotic creams as a wound dressing. Don’t have a Band-Aid? Don’t worry — honey dries to form a natural one.
- Garlic is another of nature’s antibiotics. Try taping a crushed clove over the cut. If it irritates your skin, take it off right away.
Scraped Knee? Bag It
It seems like kids manage to scrape their knees every day. Solution: Bag Balm. Originally designed for use on cows’ udders, it protects scraped skin and keeps scabs soft so that they’re less tempting to pick at. Vaseline, or any other kind of petroleum jelly, is also effective.
Take a Lesson From Rover
If you can’t wash a wound — say you’re smack in the middle of the woods — lick it. Researchers at the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research demonstrated that a protein in saliva not only helps to heal wounds, it also acts as an anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antifungal, and antibacterial agent.
Glue It Together
Read the warning label on Instant Krazy Glue, and you’ll learn that it “bonds skin instantly.” But if you’ve got a very small slice in your finger (like a paper cut), maybe an instant skin-sealer is just what you want. In fact, Krazy Glue contains the same ingredients as a new “liquid Band-Aid,” and just a drop on a cut will seal it closed for quicker healing. Just make sure you don’t touch that drop while it’s drying, or you’ll end up with a very awkward case of Siamese fingers.
Should I Call the Doctor?
Call the doctor if your wound won’t close or stop bleeding, or if you have any signs of infection, (pus, unusual discharge, fever, red streaks that spread outward from the wound). If you have a deep puncture wound your doctor may insist that you get a tetanus booster.
Believe what you see on TV and you might get the idea that only brand-name shampoos and conditioners can give you the buoyant and swirling strands that make life such fun. What those ads don’t tell you is that something as simple as mayonnaise can add just as much luster to too-dry locks, giving you the bounce and flounce that those models flaunt.
Your hair can become dry, rough, brittle, and frizzy for many reasons. It’s a non-living material, similar in composition to your fingernails, but each strand has an outer layer of cells that protect the inner hair shaft. If this coating becomes damaged, hair loses moisture and luster, and the ends become frayed. Chlorine, excessive sunlight, and heat from blow-dryers and curling irons can all damage it. Also, some people tend to have dry hair just because they don’t have an abundance of oil-producing glands on their scalps.
Start in the Shower
- Only wash your hair every other day. Your hair will stay clean enough, and you’ll leave in more of its natural oils.
- Use baby shampoo, which is less drying than some other shampoos.
- Wash and rinse your hair with warm rather than hot water. Hot water strips protective oils from your hair. The best temperature for your hair is just a bit warmer than your body temperature.
- Thoroughly rinse your hair after you shampoo it. Shampoo can leave a residue in hair, which dries out the strands.
- Avocado moisturizes hair shafts and loads them with protein, making them stronger.Thoroughly mix a ripe, peeled avocado with a teaspoon of wheat-germ oil and a teaspoon of jojoba oil. Apply it to freshly washed hair, and spread it all the way to the ends. Cover your scalp with a shampoo cap or a plastic bag, wait 15 to 30 minutes, then rinse thoroughly.
- Mayonnaise is an excellent alternative to avocado; the egg it contains is a good source of protein for your hair. Rub the mayo into your hair and leave in for anywhere up to an hour, then wash it out.
Stay in Condition
- If you use a store-bought conditioner, pick one with a “thermal protector” ingredient like dimethicone or phenyl trimethicone. These protect your hair from heat, which is especially important if you blow-dry.
- Make your own conditioner by mixing two ounces olive oil and two ounces aloe vera gel with six drops each of rosemary and sandalwood essential oils. Olive oil is a natural emollient, aloe vera hydrates, while rosemary adds body and softness to hair. (The sandalwood, which is optional, just adds fragrance.) Leave the mixture on for an hour or two, then rinse it out.
- When you use a conditioner, first apply it liberally to the ends, where hair is the driest. Then work your way toward your scalp.
- In a frizz emergency, simply use a little bit of hand lotion and smooth it through dry hair.
Let your hair air-dry whenever possible. If you must use a blow-dryer, use it sparingly. The same goes for curling irons or hot rollers. When you apply heat, it’s like drying out a leaf in sunlight: You’re inviting brittleness.
When you do use the hair dryer, make sure you use a warm, not hot, setting.
Brush Up on Your Brushing Technique
Use a brush that has natural rather than plastic bristles. Plastic generates static electricity, which will make your hair more brittle.
First brush the ends to remove tangles. That way, you won’t pull and break your hair when you take full strokes with the brush.
After you brush the ends, take long, full strokes all the way from the roots of your hair to the ends to spread hair’s natural oils.
Strengthen Your Strands
B vitamins may make hair stronger. Take one 50-milligram B-complex supplement twice a day with food.
The mineral selenium is also helpful for maintaining healthy hair. Take 200 micrograms twice a day.
A beneficial oil that may help keep hair lustrous from inside your body is evening primrose. Try taking 1,000 milligrams of evening primrose supplements three times a day. The oil is high in gamma-linolenic acid, an essential fatty acid.
The Power of Prevention
When you swim in a chlorinated pool, wear a swimming cap to keep the chlorine away from your hair. As soon as possible after getting out of the pool, wash your hair.
Use a humidifier in your bedroom. In cold weather, your home heating probably keeps the air very dry, which in turn dries out your hair.
Get your hair trimmed at least every six weeks to eliminate dry, split ends.
When your skin has been prickled by the heat, the first order of business is to cool down. For the next few days, spend as much time as you can in the cold comfort of an air-conditioned environment. Take a cool bath or shower. Have your favorite someone fan you with an ostrich feather. And while you’re waiting for your skin to chill, try these other remedies.
The itchy red bumps dotting your neck, armpits, chest, and groin are caused by sweat with nowhere to go. Normally, perspiration evaporates, which cools your skin. But sweat trapped by fabric can’t escape. The skin swells, blocks the sweat pores, and perspiration leaks into the skin, which erupts into that bumpy rash. As the bumps burst, releasing their sweat, you may feel the stinging sensation that gives heat rash its other name: prickly heat. Hot, humid weather; sweat; and constricting clothes are a recipe for heat rash. So is skin rubbing against skin, which is common in heavy folks or women with large breasts.
Pack It With Ice
Anything that cools the temperature of your skin will reduce the itching and swelling. So if you don’t have time for a bath, put an ice pack or a cool compress on the rash for 10 minutes every 4 to 6 hours.
Add the Magic Powder
Sometimes it seems as if baking soda is good for just about anything, and it’s certainly good for relieving heat rash. Soak in a tub to which you’ve added a few tablespoons of the powder. It will ease the itching and make you feel more comfortable while the rash heals. You can also add fine-ground oatmeal, which is sold under brand names such as Aveeno.
Apply baking soda or cornstarch directly to the rash site to absorb moisture and sweat. This is an age-old approach, recommended by many country grandmothers. Some say cornstarch is better because it is softer on the skin. Reapply every few hours, rinsing and drying the skin beforehand.
Slather to Soothe
- The sticky gel of the aloe vera leaf has long been used to relieve itching and promote healing.Apply the gel to the affected skin two or three times a day, washing the skin before each application.
- Apply calamine lotion. A traditional home remedy for poison ivy, the pink stuff can also ease the itching and irritation of heat rash.
Get Out in the Air
If blisters accompany the rash, don’t cover them up. Fresh air will speed their healing.
Should I Call the Doctor?
Simple heat rash is irritating but hardly serious; the itch and inflammation should clear up in a day or two. But call your doctor if the rash doesn’t go away within a few days, or if the bumps become infected. You may need medication. Also seek emergency assistance if nausea, dryness, thirst, headache, and paleness accompany the rash. In severe forms, heat rash can interfere with the body’s temperature-regulating mechanism and cause fever.
The Power of Prevention
- Limit your physical activity in extremely hot and humid weather. (The threat of heat rash is a great excuse to avoid a workout.) And take as many cold showers or baths as needed to cool yourself.
- Wear loose cotton clothing. It’s more likely to keep your skin dry, making heat rash less likely to plague your tender skin. Avoid nylon and polyester fabrics and tight clothing in general, especially during the summer months.
- Avoid oily, greasy sunscreens, or formulations that contain cocoa butter. Choose a less greasy lotion that’s hypoallergenic and blocks both UVA and UVB light.
- At the beach, perch under an umbrella. Your spot in the shade will be significantly cooler than a seat in the sun.
- If you could stand to lose a few pounds, do. Overweight people tend to sweat more and generate more body heat, making a rash more likely to erupt.
Increase your intake of essential fatty acids by eating more salmon, other cold-water fish, and flaxseed oil. These healthy fats help curtail inflammation in the body, making you less susceptible to rashes.
Insect, Spider, and Tick Bites
If you live near a polar ice cap, you’ll never have to worry about mosquitoes, bees, wasps, or spiders. For the rest of us, confrontations with these pesky predators are as inevitable as the summer solstice. For some bugs, insect repellent is an effective deterrent. Others, however, seem eternally bold, and their bites are as bad as their buzz. Here’s how to recover from sneak attacks and protect your skin from further affronts.
Some bugs bite you because they’re hungry and they see you as food. Mosquitoes, ticks, fleas, and chiggers are on this team. Others sting you because they regard you as a threat. This club includes spiders, wasps, fire ants, yellow jackets, and bees. Mosquitoes inject you with a little saliva that leaves a maddeningly itchy bump, while bees and wasps penetrate skin with a poison that makes you yelp and run. Worst, of course, are venomous spiders — but fortunately, they’re the rarest of foes.
Get Out the Credit Card
If you’ve been stung by anything larger than a mosquito (a honeybee, for instance), scrape away the stinger as soon as possible using the edge of a credit card, a knife blade, or your fingernail. As long as it remains in your skin, this little sac of poison keeps pumping its contents into your body. Don’t use tweezers or pinch the stinger with your fingertips, since you’ll squeeze more venom into your skin.
Pamper the Sting Site
- As soon as you have the stinger out, soak the area in apple cider vinegar for a few minutes. Dip a cotton ball in vinegar and tape it to the sting site. It will help relieve redness and swelling.
- Treat the area with meat tenderizer right after you’re stung. It contains enzymes that break down the venom, reducing swelling and inflammation. Take a few spoonfuls of meat tenderizer powder, add enough water to form a paste, smear the paste on, and leave it on for an hour.
- Apply an aspirin paste to stop the itching. Using the back of a spoon, crush one or two aspirin on a small plate or cutting board. Add just enough water to make a paste, then dab the paste on the sting site. Ingredients in aspirin help to neutralize the venom.
- Apply an ice pack to numb the area and help slow the swelling. If you have a towel or washcloth between the ice pack and your skin, you can leave the ice pack in place for up to 20 minutes.
- Papaya contains enzymes that neutralize insect venom. If you happen to have this fruit in your lunch basket, simply lay a slice on the sting for an hour.
- Baking soda can bring relief. One method of application is to mix baking soda with a skin lotion, then apply it to the sensitive area. The baking soda helps relieve inflammation, and the skin lotion keeps it in place. Alternatively, you can mix one teaspoon of baking soda in a glass of water, let it dissolve, then apply the mixture with a cotton pad or washcloth. Leave the compress in place for 20 minutes.
- Cut an onion, then rub it over the sting site. Doctors aren’t quite sure how this works, but the onion contains enzymes that seem to break down inflammatory compounds. Other people swear by smearing a crushed clove of garlic over the skin.
- Sugar works too. Just dip your forefinger in water, dab it in sugar, then touch the sting site.
- To help reduce swelling, try bromelain, a protein-digesting enzyme derived from pineapple. On an empty stomach take 500 milligrams containing at least 2,000 GDU or 3,000 MCU. You can take several doses in a single day. Stop taking it when the swelling goes down.
- Tea tree oil will also help reduce the swelling. Apply one drop several times a day.
To stop the itching, dab on a drop or two of lavender oil. Wait about fifteen minutes to allow the oil to take effect. If the area starts to itch again, apply more — but just one or two drops at a time.
Instead of Scratching That Insect Bite…
- Rub an ice cube on the bug bite right away. This helps decrease the inflammation that causes itching.
- Sea Breeze astringent for oily skin will stop the itching from mosquito bites. In addition to alcohol, its contents include camphor, eucalyptus, clove oil, eugenol, and peppermint oil. Dab a small amount on a cotton pad or tissue, and apply it to the site.
- Underarm deodorants have ingredients that reduce skin irritation. If you get a bug bite, try any deodorant and see if it works.
- Apply a drop or two of peppermint oil. It has a cooling effect, and also increases circulation to the bite, speeding the healing process. Alternatively, if you have toothpaste that contains peppermint oil, apply a dab.
- Look for an anti-itch spray or gel that contains menthol, a classic skin-soother. Keep the product in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use it. The coolness will provide extra itch relief.
- Buy anti-itch cream that contains a topical anesthetic to numb the area. Some also contain hydrocortisone to stop the swelling and antihistamine to counter the allergic reaction.
- Use a bug-bite relief patch, which looks like a small bandage and goes directly on the skin. Each patch contains concentrated numbing medicine.
Spot the Spider
If you know you’ve been bitten by a spider, try to memorize its appearance. Some spiders can cause serious symptoms affecting your whole body, while others just create a localized reaction. Whether or not you have a severe reaction, get medical attention right away.
Outsmart Ticks’ Tricks
If you’re been in tick territory, be sure to follow this advice.
- After you’ve been in the woods or weeds, strip off your clothes and check yourself from head to toe. (Have your spouse or partner check parts of your body you can’t see.)
- If you find a tick that hasn’t attached to your skin, grasp it with a napkin or piece of toilet paper, and flush it down the toilet.
- If a tick has already latched onto your skin, use tweezers to grab it by the head, as close to your skin as possible. Slowly pull upward until it lets go. If you yank it off, the head can break off in your skin and remain there until infection sets in.
- Preserve any tick that has been embedded in your skin in a zipped-up plastic sandwich bag. If you develop a rash, your doctor can analyze the tick to see whether it carries Lyme disease. A rash can show up from three days to a month later, so keep that bagged tick for a while before flushing it away.
Should I Call the Doctor?
If you’ve been bitten by a spider, call the doctor immediately. If you’ve been stung by a bee or wasp and then have trouble breathing, feel faint, or have swelling in your mouth or throat, a rapid pulse, or hives, get to an emergency room. You could be having a potentially fatal allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. And see a doctor if you develop a bull’s-eye rash, muscle aches, fever, and headache within three weeks after getting a tick bite; these could be signs of Lyme disease, which can lead to mental confusion and arthritis if not treated.
The Power of Prevention
- Use a bug spray that contains DEET, the most effective insect repellent for use on the skin. Adults can safely use any DEET product (following directions on the label). Children should not be exposed to a cream that exceeds 6% DEET.
- Before heading into the deep woods, treat your clothing with one of the many insect repellents that contain permethrin. Permethrin is a synthetic version of a bug-repelling compound found in chrysanthemum plants. Apply it liberally to outdoor-wear clothing, and it should remain effective even after a washing. Permethrin only goes on clothing, but not for safety reasons: The compound loses its effectiveness when it’s applied to skin.
- You can also use products made with p-Menthane 3, 8-diol, a chemical derived from the eucalyptus plant. Off! Botanicals is one product that contains this ingredient.
- Citronella, an oil that comes from a type of grass, is found in bug-repelling candles, as well as bug sprays. Follow label directions.
- Several days before you take a camping or hiking trip into bug-filled territory, start eating garlic. Have a clove or two every day. As you sweat out the garlic odor, it repels many insects.
- To keep bees away, avoid wearing perfumes or scented products, keep food and soda covered, and don’t wear bright clothing, especially floral patterns.
No one would knowingly touch a toxic plant, yet generations of even sharp-eyed outdoors people, not to mention kids wandering in the woods, have picked up the itch. If you know you’ve been exposed, you may be able to wash off the allergy-inducing urushiol before it’s too late. And there are many ways to ease the itching and dry the blisters if you do get poison ivy. But avoidance is by far the best approach — especially if you’re one of those people driven nuts by itching.
Seven out of ten people are allergic to poison ivy, making this the world’s most common allergy. People who have the allergy are sensitive to urushiol, an irritating resin that’s found in poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac. If you so much as brush one of these plants, urushiol can get on your skin. Within as little as two hours, you’ll develop an itchy rash that will have you scratching for three weeks or more. You can also get the rash by touching clothes or other items that have been contaminated with urushiol. And if there’s urushiol on your fingers, you’ll be spreading the rash around your body every time you scratch.
Rush to Wash
Run for the shower — or the nearest creek, if you’re hiking — and wash away the resin before the allergic reaction takes hold. Once you come into contact with poison ivy, the clock starts ticking: You have about 15 minutes to get rid of the urushiol. Use soap and warm water, if they’re available. If you have a choice of soaps, use one that does not contain moisturizers. Skip the washcloth, since it can spread the oil around your body.
If it’s impossible to wash right away, clean your skin with rubbing alcohol to dissolve the urushiol. If none is handy, you can use any product (or beverage) that contains alcohol.
Alternatively, you can clean off the urushiol with Tecnu, an over-the-counter solvent that’s designed especially to remove urushiol from the skin. Tecnu is very effective at removing the resin, but be sure to rinse it off immediately or you risk skin irritation.
A Gem of a Cure
If you know what the jewelweed plant looks like (it has tall, translucent stems and hanging, trumpet-shaped yellow or orange flowers) and there’s one growing nearby, crush a handful of the leaves and stems and smear the juice on the affected area. Also known as impatiens and touch-me-not, this plant sometimes grows near poison ivy. There is some research to support the old folk notion that it works against poison ivy rash.
Other Plant Remedies
- Slice a leaf of a fresh aloe vera plant, scoop out the gel, and apply to the affected areas. Aloe is not only for sunburn; its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties make it great for poison ivy as well. Commercial aloe vera gel products are fine if they are made mostly from pure gel from the plant.
- Pick a few leaves from the common lawn weed plantain, wash them, mash them, and apply as a poultice to the affected skin. Plantain contains a chemical (called allantoin) that is anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial.
Stop the Spread
- Wash the clothes you were wearing when you touched poison ivy in the washing machine with warm water. This should get out all the urushiol so the rash won’t spread.
- Rinse off your shoes. If you were wearing washable sneakers when you came into contact with the plant, put them through a separate cycle after washing your clothes.
- Dogs and cats don’t get poison ivy, but their fur can become coated with urushiol. So if Fido followed you into the woods, you can either avoid him for the next few days or give him a bath in soapy water. The bath is a real chore, however, since you’ll have to wear rubber gloves and a raincoat to avoid getting urushiol on your skin.
Attack the Itch
- Use a vinegar compress to dry the rash and relieve itching. Mix a half-cup white vinegar with 1½cups water. Chill in the refrigerator. When you need cool relief, moisten a cloth in the solution and press it onto the rash.
- Dab calamine lotion onto the rash. This classic poison ivy remedy relieves itch and will help dry up blisters. If you find the lotion too runny, just mix in a little cornstarch.
- Soak a cloth in cold milk and hold it against your skin. Cold milk is more soothing to itchy skin than cold water. Exactly why milk relieves itching is unknown, but perhaps it’s the milk fat.
- Using a cotton ball, treat your rash with witch hazel, which has a great reputation as a skin soother. The kind that comes in an alcohol solution cools your skin as it evaporates.
- Moisten a plain old tea bag (black or green, it doesn’t matter) and apply it to the itchy skin. The tannic acid in tea, which is astringent, helps contract inflamed tissue and relieve the itching.
- Take a warm bath to which you’ve added a few tablespoons of colloidal oatmeal (like Aveeno) or plain oatmeal ground in a blender. The oatmeal will help dry a rash that has started to blister, and also relieves the itch. Be careful when getting out — oatmeal makes the tub very slippery.
- To dry out the rash, relax in a bath containing Epsom salt. Follow the label directions.
Should I Call the Doctor?
If you’re in extreme discomfort, or if you have severe blistering, swelling, or redness, call your doctor. You should also alert the doctor if you might have inhaled the smoke of burning poison ivy plants, particularly if you become short of breath. Seek medical attention at once if the rash is on your eyes, nose, mouth, throat, or genitals.
The Power of Prevention
- Whenever venturing out into the wilds where you may come into contact with poisonous plants, wear long pants and a long-sleeved shirt.
- Get a plant-identification book, and learn to recognize poison ivy, oak, and sumac. Many people recognize poison ivy for its “leaves of three.” But they may fail to recognize that poison ivy can grow as a shrub or tree-clinging vine as well as a ground cover. In the spring, its leaves are reddish. Late in the season, it bears pale white berries.
- Before going out, rub some IvyBlock or Stokogard outdoor cream on exposed skin. These claylike lotions, which are available over the counter, form a protective barrier that guards skin against urushiol.
- Don’t go near any burning brush pile. If there’s poison ivy in the pile, the oil takes to the air and can get into your lungs. You can develop a serious lung infection, as well as a rash over your entire body.
If you have the complexion of boiled lobster and you’re in significant pain, take aspirin, ibuprofen, or some other over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drug to reduce the swelling and relieve the pain. And of course, do what you’d do for any other type of burn: Cool it with cold water to stop the sizzle. You may also want to use one of the sunburn sprays, sold in the drugstore, that contain numbing ingredients. Finally, make sure to learn your lesson and remember to wear sunscreen next time you venture out into the sun.
The outer layers of your skin have become inflamed by overexposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. With a first-degree burn, the skin may be hot and tender as well. Small, fluid-filled blisters indicate second-degree sunburn. Worst of all are third-degree burns, which cause blistering, red or purple skin discoloration, chills, fever, nausea, and headache. With repeated severe sunburns, your skin ages more rapidly, and risk of skin cancer increases. Fair-haired people with light skin are more at risk for sunburn, as are those who take certain medications such as sulfa drugs, some antibiotics, and oral diabetes medications.
- For immediate relief, soak the sunburned areas in cold water (but not ice water) or with cold compresses for 15 minutes. The cold reduces swelling and wicks away heat from your skin.
- If you’re burned all over, take a soak in a cool bath to which you’ve added oatmeal. You can either buy a colloidal oatmeal product such as Aveeno or simply grind up a cup of oatmeal in a food processor and add it to your bath.
- Brew up a pot of green tea and let it cool. Soak a clean cloth in the tea, and use it as a compress. The tea contains ingredients that help protect the skin from ultraviolet radiation damage and reduce inflammation.
- Use the cooling, aromatic qualities of peppermint to quell the scorch of a sunburn. Either make peppermint tea or mix two drops of peppermint oil with a cup of lukewarm water. Chill the concoction and gently bathe the burned area.
- For extra-painful spots of sunburn, rub the area gently with sliced cucumber or potato. They contain compounds that cool the burn and help reduce swelling.
- Vinegar contains acetic acid — one of the components of aspirin. It can help ease sunburn pain, itching, and inflammation. Soak a few sheets of paper towels in white vinegar, and apply them to the burned areas. Leave them on until the towels are dry. Repeat as needed.
- If the sunburn itches, take a cool bath, but add 2 cups of vinegar to the bathwater before you get in.
Put On a Coating
Should I Call the Doctor?
Most sunburns are first-degree burns. The pain will ease in one to four days. But call the doctor if your sunburned skin starts to blister, you run a fever or develop chills or nausea, or if the pain becomes unbearable.
The Power of Prevention
Always slather your skin with a sunscreen that contains a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher, at least 30 minutes before going outdoors. Insist that your loved ones do the same.
Between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., limit your exposure to the sun. This is when the sun’s rays are at their strongest.
If you burn easily or have been diagnosed with skin cancer in the past, take no chances: Cover up in the sun. That means long pants, long sleeves, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses.
“But I’m not a swimmer!” you say. You don’t have to be. The infection can get started when you’re just taking a shower. But you can be quite sure it’s swimmer’s ear if you feel a piercing pain when you push on the triangular flap that covers the opening to the ear canal. To deal with the pain, your easiest option is an over-the-counter painkiller such as aspirin or acetaminophen. Also try heat to ease the ache and take steps (described below) to dry out the ear canal and make it unfriendly to the bacteria or fungi that caused the infection.
Swimmer’s ear is an infection of the outer ear canal. It happens when water gets trapped in your ears and allows bacteria or fungi to flourish. At first, the affected ear feels blocked and may itch. If you leave it untreated, the infection can cause swelling, accompanied by some drainage of fluid. The condition can be quite painful. Often, the area that hurts the most is the triangular piece of cartilage called the tragus that covers the front of the ear canal.
Warming the Cockles
For soothing relief, treat your ear to heat. Use a hot-water bottle or a heating pad set on low. If you’re using the bottle, wrap it in a towel so it feels comfortably warm, not super hot. If you’re using a heating pad, for safety’s sake, be careful not to fall asleep with that electric pad nestled against your ear.
Drop In Center
- Take advantage of garlic’s potent antibacterial properties and use this herb in eardrops. You can buy garlic oil in health food stores, or make your own. Grate three medium cloves of garlic and place them in a shallow dish. Cover them with olive oil and let the mixture stand overnight. Strain out the garlic and apply 3 drops in the affected ear.
- If your infection itches but doesn’t hurt, mix equal parts of rubbing alcohol with distilled white vinegar, and use a clean eyedropper to put a few drops in your ear. Tilt your head so the mixture flows into the ear canal, then tug your earlobe to make sure it flows all the way in. Keep your head tilted (or lie down) for a few minutes, then sit erect and tilt your ear toward your shoulder to let the excess drain out. (You’ll need a tissue or handkerchief to catch the runoff.) Because vinegar creates an acid environment — inhospitable to bacteria and fungi — it helps to clear infection. And the drops also help dry out the ear canal, because they contain alcohol, which evaporates rapidly.
- If your ear is painful, skip the alcohol. Just use vinegar blended with a few drops of water.
If your ear itches, mix a few drops of lavender oil with a teaspoon of olive oil and rub the mixture in your outer ear. You don’t need to use much.
Should I Call the Doctor?
If you’ve ever had a ruptured eardrum or had tubes put in your ears, see your doctor for any kind of earache. Otherwise, you can usually treat a mild case of swimmer’s ear at home. But if you develop sudden, severe ear pain, or hearing loss, get to the doctor.
You’ll also need a doctor’s help if you have signs or symptoms of a punctured eardrum (blood, discharge from the ear, very intense pain followed by sudden relief). For swimmer’s ear that doesn’t respond to home remedies, a doctor can prescribe antibiotics.
The Power of Prevention
- Wear wax or silicone earplugs, available at most drugstores, to keep your ears dry when you’re swimming or showering. The earplugs can be softened and shaped to fit snugly into your outer ear canal.
- After you swim or shower, shake your head to remove any water that remains in your ears. Better yet, gently blow-dry your ears. Pull the flap of your ear to create an open airway to your ear canal. Set the hair dryer on the lowest setting and direct the airstream into your ear for 30 seconds. The nozzle of the hair dryer should be about 18 inches away.
- Dilute a small amount of apple cider vinegar with an equal amount of distilled water and use 1 drop in each ear after you swim or shower. The vinegar is good for preventing bacterial and fungal infections as well as clearing them up.
- Don’t try to get all the wax out of your ears. In normal amounts, earwax coats the ear canal, which protects your inner ear from moisture.
Swimming Against Current and Recurrent Infections
Usually swimmer’s ear is easy to treat and goes away, never to be heard from again. But not always. In about one percent of all cases, it comes back again no matter what you do to prevent a recurrence. Some particularly hard-to-treat bacteria has set up home in your ear, and all you can do is try to keep it under control. If you have this problem, be sure to keep your doctor informed. In rare cases, the infection can spread into nearby tissue around the ear (a severe condition called malignant otitis externa). People with diabetes and those with compromised immune systems are most susceptible.