Home Remedies on the Road

I’ve been traveling now for more than 15 months and I’ve been pretty lucky so far – in terms of falling ill that is. I mean, yes, I got parasites in my feet in Mozambique and food poisoning in Laos. I blew my eardrum diving in Honduras and ended up in the emergency room in Tasmania. But really, nothing major.

Mysterious Rash

So when I got a suspicious rash on my arm in Thailand, I wasn’t too worried. The rash actually looked kind of familiar. And as it got worst and starting forming blisters on my arm and oozing yellow fluid, I figured it out: Poison Ivy.

Now, I wasn’t too psyched because I’m really allergic to poison ivy. I used to get it all the time from hiking and gardening. I even used to get it from contact with my kitties’ fur after they had been romping in the woods. I probably had it about a quarter of the time I lived in California and if I had been home in San Fran, I would’ve gone to the doctor for a steroid injection.

Self Diagnosis

But I was in Phuket and had some time on my hands, so instead I got online. The first thing I wanted to figure out how I got it since I hadn’t been thrashing about in the bushes. And it was in a weird place, in a circle around my forearm, where I had been wearing my new lacquer bracelet I bought in Burma.

I then remembered the tour of we had of a lacquer factory and how lacquer is made from the sap of a tree. An online search confirmed that poison ivy contains urushiol oil, a derivative of urushi (the Japanese name for lacquer). Ah Ha! – I found the cause of a poison ivy rash.

Self Medication

Now that I knew what it was and why I got it, I decided to experiment a little. (Truthfully, I think I was a bit bored.) I went online again and tried several home remedies:

  1. Sea water: Luckily I was staying at a seaside resort and went into the ocean a couple of times of a day to submerge my arm in the salt water, drying the rash out. Rating C+
  2. Pool water: The chlorine in the pool actually worked much better than the seawater, which I guess makes sense since sodium chloride is chlorine’s main compound. And think about it, it is used to kill all sorts of bacteria in the pool. Rating B+
  3. Tea: Another online suggestion was to soak the rash in tea. This actually worked the best and was really soothing for the rash. I would make a pitcher of extra-strong tea with about 6-8 tea bags and pour it over my arm both in the morning and at night. Rating A
  4. Bleach: You’ll all be happy to know I didn’t actually try the bleach. (Although I was pretty tempted.) The bleach was supposed to clean the wound, but the pain would be horrendous and would have probably knock me out. Also, some people got burns from the bleach, that were actually much worse than their original blisters from the rash. Rating F


I was very diligent about my regimen, soaking and cleaning the rash about 6-8 times a day, rotating between sea water, pool water and tea. After about 1 week the blisters dried up, and the entire rash cleared up after 3 weeks.

I was also using a hydrocortisone cream (which is a type of steroid). At least, that’s what I think I was applying. It was a tube of something prescribed by a doctor in Israel and the writing was all in Hebrew (which, of course, I don’t know how to read.) Seemed to work though!

Heal Thyself!

All told, these home remedies actually worked faster than a steroid shot and without all the lousy side effects. Although in truth, I’m not sure experimenting on myself medically is such a great idea, especially alone in a hotel room, far from home. Thank god I didn’t try the bleach!

p.s. I got most of my information from this site. Check it out if you want to see a lot of disgusting pictures of people’s rashes: http://poisonivy.aesir.com/view/fastfacts.html

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This entry was posted on Thursday, March 22nd, 2012 and is filed under Erin Right Now.

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