3 months of poison ivy, a story 🌿

February 25, 2022

Picture credit: Val

Long story short, if you were walking through tall herbs in the woods, removing weeds from your garden or anything like this, and a few days to a week later you get a itchy rash somewhere on your body that was exposed at the time, then it might be poison ivy (that is, if you live in a part of the world where there’s poison ivy, e.g. North America).

If it’s bad enough that it doesn’t go away with the typical over-the-counter treatments, insist to get an appointment with a real dermatologist (regardless if we’re in the middle of a global pandemic) to get properly diagnosed and treated. They might prescribe you a month of oral steroids to properly get rid of it.

Or don’t do that and experience a taste of hell for 3 months like I did.

Things I learnt about poison ivy

The story with timings

Back in May 2020, right after the first COVID confinement in Canada, I go climb in a spot in the forest with my friend. I even recorded a vlog that day!

Near the end of the day we decide to scale the hill we were close to to get some views at the top, but since there wasn’t a path we just crossed through the woods. You can see that at 36 minutes in the video. There were some steep parts at times that definitely required me to touch the ground with my hands. I suspect that’s where I got in contact with poison ivy.

To make the matter worst, since we climbed all day and I hadn’t climbed in a while, my fingers and hands had many cuts on them by the time we did that hike. And because my hands were hurt, I didn’t like the idea of putting them in water to wash them as we were near a river later on (unlike my friend did, which probably saved him a lot of trouble), so I only washed my hands hours later when I got home.

June

A week later, my hands start itching in a way that’s really unusual. I wait a few days thinking it’ll just go away but it gets worst. So I go to the pharmacy where they tell me it’s likely poison ivy, explain me what it is because I’ve never heard of it at this point, and told me to get an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream to put every day for a week or so.

For the whole month, I get on and off symptoms of itchiness, redness and raised bumps over my hands. Sometimes it feels like it’s going away and sometimes it’s getting worst. It made life quite challenging because it’s basically something that I was constantly concerned about!

July

Early July, I have a call with an online doctor who tells me I need to put a stronger steroid cream for at least 7 days, and prescribes me one. No symptoms while I put the cream every morning, but sadly two days after I stopped the treatment, I start to get symptoms again. They get worst over time to the point where I decide to put the cream again for 2 weeks this time. But again, as I stop the treatment, the symptoms slowly creep back.

I call an online doctor again who tells me it might be some kind of eczema, but I don’t need to see a dermatologist just yet (even though I kept asking to see a real doctor to get treated properly, I mean it’s been two months I’m dealing with this at that point). He tells me to put moisturizing cream 4 times a day, and also prescribes me an even stronger steroid cream, but I don’t use it right away because I didn’t really like the idea to depend on steroids for my hands to feel normal.

Near the end of July the symptoms are still bad so I finally oblige to put the steroids cream. Apparently for this kind short period usage, it’s fine. Another 2 weeks of putting the cream every morning.

August

Guess what happens early August right after the 2 weeks treatment is over? Yeap, itchiness comes back. And it gets pretty bad towards the middle of the month. I don’t know if I’m experiencing poison ivy rebound one more time or if it’s now steroid withdrawal symptom?

Another call with an online doctor who decides that I have dyshidrotic eczema and finally agrees to send me to a proper dermatologist (thank you). He also tells me to put a moisturizing cream specialized for eczema (I used the Cetaphil PRO) and I can say it relieved the itching quite well in comparison to cheaper moisturizers.

Finally he prescribes me an even stronger steroid cream (mometasone) that I need to put every morning for 5 days, keeping it on my hands for 20 minutes before rinsing it away. Not my favorite kind of morning routine if you ask me.

On the 20th of August I finally get my dermatologist appointment, but by this time the symptoms are not as bad as they were in the past. She tells me it was definitely poison ivy and that the reason it lasted so long for me was because the creams are not that good at treating it. She normally prescribes 1 month of oral steroids for poison ivy treatment which pretty much guarantees to get rid of it definitively (on top of removing 100% of the annoying symptoms during that time). Good to know if it ever happens to me again!

After that I kept using the moisturizing cream occasionally for a few months as my skin was still dryer than usual, but itching was basically gone and I could live a happy life again. Eventually I stopped the moisturizer as my hands were fully back to normal.

Conclusion

I already put the conclusion in the very beginning of this article because I don’t really think anyone cares about the rest of the story. That was just some old notes I had, and I didn’t want to just delete them as I figured they might be useful.

Typically, I looked up online about this stuff every single day to figure what was wrong with my hands, and it was hard to get an idea of what treatment I needed and what to expect. Obviously this can vary a lot but I think reading a concrete example like this one can help getting an idea of what to expect, and especially not making the same mistakes.

In this COVID world it can be hard to see a doctor in real life, but I can’t stress how important it is to meet a real professional to address seriously this kind of issue, especially if they persist after the basic pharmacy treatments or other suggestions found on the internet.

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