Sunday, October 14, 2012

How I Survived Poison Oak/Ivy

update:  it's 2014 and the darned stuff resurfaces still, now and then, in patches in entirely different places than where i contracted it in 2012.  i'm guessing it's from my childhood experiences, when i used products that shoved the poison into my body.  i try to celebrate its release, though it is extremely frustrating to have to live through the horror of it again and again.  after speaking with someone who lived in california and encountered poison oak regularly, i tried his method which is somewhat counterintuitive, especially for those who've studied tcm, but actually did help a lot.  he recommended taking as hot a shower as you can handle ... it definitely burns, but in a hurts-so-good kind of way.  then finish with a cold shower.  the rash doesn't seem to heal any faster, the stuff seems to need at least 2 weeks to run its course, but the hot/cold shower definitely takes the itch away for long enough to get a couple of hours of sleep, or to function without wanting to crawl out of your skin.  

I’m not a health practitioner, I’m not offering this information as medical advice.  I've survived Poison Oak with natural healing methods, and my motive is to share what I've learned.

The best survival tactic is avoidance – the plant has three almond shaped leaflets that grow together, thus the old adage “leaves of three, let them be.” Both poison oak and poison ivy produce uroshiol, and even their bare branches or roots can trigger an allergic reaction.  If you’re not good at plant identification, or for extra protection, cover your legs and wear shoes or boots when hiking, use gloves when reaching into bushes or pulling roots.

It may take several hours for symptoms to appear, which means you might transfer the poison to other surfaces without realizing.  The plant resin, the uroshiol, remains active for up to a year.  If you realize you’ve had contact with the plant, don’t touch anything.  Wash with soap and water immediately.  If you transfer the plant resin to other surfaces, wash those immediately too, in hot water.  Animals are not affected by the uroshiol, so petting your dog and then scratching your face is another way the poison can be transferred.  The stuff that oozes out of the rash, is not contagious, just the original plant resin.

If you have access to a doctor, go get a diagnosis to be sure that’s what you’re dealing with.  I was diagnosed with “contact dermatitis.”  You can proceed with the allopathic course of action if you choose, typically they’ll prescribe steroid creams, cortisone, and antihistamines.  All this will mask the underlying issue and drive the poison into your body where it’ll be stored and might resurface months or years later.  Plus, you'll then be asking your body to eliminate the steroid or cortisone you've now added to it.  And if you check the side effects of the prescribed medications you’ll find “contact dermatitis” among them.  I just don’t get why it’s a good idea to take a product with a side effect that’s exactly the same as the condition I’m trying to treat.

A preferred course of action will lead you to a world of treatment alternatives.  Your recovery time may be a little bit longer than the allopathic route, but your body have a much better chance of clearing out the poison.  Alternative/complimentary healing is about supporting your own body’s immune mechanisms as it eliminates the poison.  It’s about have having faith in your own ability to heal, and providing your body with whatever it needs in order to take care of itself.  You’ll emerge with a stronger immune system and the knowledge that you’re clear of the poison.

If you want to heal naturally, prepare yourself psychologically for a healing routine that could take a week or two.  Cancel your appointments, get a leave from work.  Your sleep patterns will be disrupted because you're so busy trying not to think about how itchy you are.

Here’s what I found useful:

1.  Make sure there are no thorns under your skin.  Poison Oak/Ivy thorns don’t feel like blisters, it’s not obvious they’re there.  If you suspect they might be, or if you just want to be sure they aren’t, make a paste of slippery elm bark and cover the affected area.  Let that sit for about 15 minutes and rinse.  Slippery elm bark is good for drawing thistles and splinters and thorns out of your body.  It also helps ease the itch.

2.  Avoid heat.  I made the mistake of going for an infrared sauna thinking that would help drive the poison out of my body.  Infrared saunas are fantastic for flushing toxins from the body.  But I learned that, in Chinese medicine, an itchy rash is a sign of heat and you don’t want to add more heat.  I ended up with a heat rash on top of the poison oak/ivy rash, and the heat also served to drive the pathogen further into my body.

Then, after the initial rash had cleared completely and I had given my body some time and distance from the original incident, I went for another infrared sauna.  I have great faith in those to release toxins that are stored in our body.  To my surprise, my rash reappeared.  And, to my horror, expanded into areas it hadn't previously appeared.  This, I believe, is evidence that the poison remains dormant in the body.  With the second rash I had terrible itchiness in between my toes, which I hadn't had with the first rash, because I'd been wearing sandals that covered my toes.  But I remember poison oak from my childhood, I had been wearing thongs on my feet, and the memory of itchy toes resurfaced.  This was quite a revelation, and I was happy to think that I was helping release poison that had been stored in my body all these years.  But the infrared sauna offered too much detox, too fast.  I made an appointment with a homeopath, in an attempt to coax these old toxins out of my body and release them forever.  To treat the acute rash, though, I proceeded with the following.

3.  Treat the heat.  Dump three or more cans of coconut milk into the bathtub along with four or five drops of lavender oil.  Add cool water, and soak.  This will help release the heat that’s accumulating throughout your body, and is very soothing for your skin.  

4.  Treat the itch.  There are a few different ways to do this and I had the most success alternating treatments.

*  Add a tablespoon of slippery elm bark powder to a bucket and soak the affected area.  This relieves the itch almost instantly, and for about an hour or two afterwards.

* Combine oatmeal and water in a blender and cover the affected area with the paste.  Let it dry and then rinse with cool water. 

*  Make a mud mask (like the kind you use for a facial) and cover the affected area.  This is cooling, and draws the poisons out.

* Make a paste of baking soda and water and allow it to dry on the affected area.  Or add some to your bathtub and soak in it.

* Put apple cider vinegar on a cotton ball and gently swab the area.  You can also take a tablespoon or so a day internally.

* See a herbalist to attain a tea or tincture or herbal mix you can take internally.  The good people at Simple Remedies or Self Heal Herbs can also help with that.

5.  Treat the inflammation.  There are conflicting opinions about the use of ice.  If you do ice the area, wrap the ice in a towel (don’t put it directly on your skin) and don’t ice the area for more than 20 minutes at a time or you might do damage.  There are lots of natural herbal ways to treat inflammation:

*  Drink warm soymilk with ¼ tsp turmeric before bedtime.

*  Camomile is a natural antihistamine.  Drink it as tea, add a few drops of essential oil to a diffuser, or a bathtub.

*  Take aloe vera internally and also apply it topically.  Put aloe vera juice in a spray bottle and douse the affected area periodically.

*  Zeolite is a very powerful detoxifier.  Put a bit in a bucket, or a bathtub, and then drink a ton of water.  Or, make a mask and cover the area.  It'll pull all kinds of toxins out and ease the itch for a while.  Be prepared for a detox headache, and drink lots of water afterwards.  It's available in bulk at Ingredients.

*  Other herbs that help reduce inflammation include Feverfew, Burdock, Oregon Grape, Yellow Dock, Echinacea, Sarsaparilla, Nettle, Cleavers, Plantain.

*  If you know how to safely do inversions, go for Sirsasana followed by Sarvangasana or Viparita Kirani

6.  Support your skin.  Increase your intake of 3-6-9 oil, or flax and borage oil, or evening primrose oil.  I’m vegan, I’d advise against fish oils since fish contain increasing amounts of mercury and the point is to remove toxins, not add more of them.  Topically, this is what worked for me:

*  Choose a base oil - coconut or hemp are good, also shea butter.  Add a few drops of seabuckthorn or tamanu oil, one or two drops of tea tree or lavender oil and apply gently to the affected area.  

7.  Support your body.  Remember the philosophy is about having faith in your body to heal itself, and supporting it so it can. 

*  Avoid coffee and alcohol. Drink lots of water.  Green tea has caffeine, but it’s full of antioxidants which are good for you. Herbal tea is good too, but remember some natural substances will encourage more heat in your body, like ginger, and you don’t want that right now. 

*  Eat healthy, organic, and I would recommend vegan and some raw food.  Animal protein is not only connected to suffering and death, it’s likely full of antibiotics or whatever other unnecessary crap they pump into farm animals.  And it’s entirely unnecessary for a healthy diet, in fact it impedes good health.  Meat and dairy encourage inflammation, which is unhealthy for your skin and all your vital organs.  

* Take lots of vitamin C, it helps flush toxins out of your body.  Chlorella and kelp are good for that too.  Take a good daily vitamin/mineral supplement.  Vitamineral Green and Vitamineral Earth are really fantastic raw and vegan supplements available at Pacific Rim SchoolTriangle Healing, and Ingredients.

* Boost your immune system with astragalus, reishi mushrooms, milk thistle.  Check with a herbalist or an informed employee at a health or vitamin shop for dosage and good combinations of immune boosting herbs and roots.

* Encourage the elimination of toxins through regular bowel movements.  Herbs, including Cascara, Blue Flag, or Cleavers are helpful for that.

*  Support your liver.  Everything gets processed through your liver

* Cannabis herb or infused oil helps relax the body and relieve some of the stress.
before acupuncture

after acupuncture.  it may be difficult to see any difference,
but trust me the heat and swelling were greatly reduced.
5.  Get some acupuncture.  I had noticeable improvement after acupuncture treatments.  If you’ve never been, don’t be afraid of the needles.  They’re not like the needles they poke you with at the hospital.  These are tiny needles.  And they don’t stick them right into your pain area.  The philosophy of acupuncture is wholistic, it’s about supporting your body, stimulating your vital organs so they have extra energy to process the pathogen and remove it from your body.  Acupuncture schools have teams of students looking for patients, they’re affordable, and supervised by the instructors.  Typically the students want to do their very best for you, their career depends on it. 

I believe it’s quite possible that plants like poison oak/ivy are evolving even stronger toxins, to help them deal with the influx of chemicals and radiation from human agriculture and nuclear explosions like Fukushima and Chernobyl.  At the same time, our frail humanity is being silently poisoned by those same chemicals and radiation.  This means it’s more important than ever to support our bodies, to strengthen them so they can handle all the added toxins in the air, soil, and water. 

With much gratitude to the good people at Pacific Rim College, and Heidi Sherwood from Sapphire Day Spa.

Good luck with your healing journey!