Getting Up to Scratch on Poison Ivy

After reading "Itching for Relief" [Aug. 31], I felt I needed to comment on the effectiveness of the product Zanfel. Recently I was running through the woods in my little running shorts and was chased off a path by some dogs, right into a poison ivy patch. I tried to wash it off, but by two days later I started itching. By the next day, in addition to the itching, I had that leathery look to my skin that presents just before the blistering starts.

I am an RN and my husband has worked as a physician's assistant. We were both sure I was headed for cortisone. I visited my local pharmacy and they suggested I try Zanfel. So I purchased a one-ounce tube at $30 (not $40).

I was very careful to follow the directions fully. One of the variables is the amount of time you scrub the affected area. The directions say 15 seconds to three minutes. Since I was determined to do all I could to get this under control, I scrubbed for three minutes and treated all my areas at least twice. I did have to purchase a second tube (you have to use enough to make it work) but since my rash was completely gone within two days I say that was a bargain.

For those who can't afford the product and decide to tough it out, I have an extremely inexpensive way to relieve the itch: Running the affected area under hot water (don't burn yourself) for up to five minutes. This causes the histamine buildup (which is what causes the itching) under your skin to be released. This can relieve itching for up to eight hours. Taking Benadryl helps as well, but not quite like the water treatment.

Mary Ann Mongillo


The old cures learned from elders do work. I grew up working with my grandfather doing surveys, and in every old fence row you could find poison ivy. My grandmother gave me lye soap she would make and told me to wash with it as soon as I was done in the outdoors. Other soaps just don't wash the poison ivy oil off effectively.

I made some lye soap using readily available products, and it still works miracles. Of course, you should immediately wash off and wash clothes if you know you have touched poison ivy. But otherwise at the end of the day, use your lye soap.

Eric Young


I moved to the country about two years ago and got into a lot of poison ivy. What I have found over the past three summers is that if I take Zyrtec on a daily basis, I do not get a severe reaction if I come in contact with poison ivy. Once I get a few blisters, I double the dose and have nearly no itching or spread of rash.

Kristine Marcy

Accomac, Va.

Erika Ginsberg made no mention of the homeopathic remedy Rhus Toxidendron for the treatment of poison ivy. It is safe, inexpensive and, most important, effective.

I suggest that she consult with a medical doctor who specializes in homeopathic medicine. My own physician has treated me and my family for almost 20 years for a variety of conditions. No poison ivy here.

Susan Walsh


Asthma? Touch Not the Cat

"Breathing Lessons" (Aug. 31) clearly presents the critical importance of reducing exposure to environmental factors, including smoking, that worsen asthma symptoms and send children to the emergency room.

As underscored by the University of Michigan's Physician Asthma Care Education program (PACE) survey and the experience of the Thackston family of Alexandria, adherence to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute guidelines for asthma care requires effective communication between physicians and families. PACE has been found to enhance such communication, leading to significant reductions in emergency room visits and hospitalizations.

In the District of Columbia, however, emergency room use for asthma among children ages 1 to 18 years continues to rise. To reverse this trend, the D.C. Asthma Coalition (DCAC) and the Howard University College of Medicine are jointly sponsoring the PACE program in the District.

For more information, please contact DCAC at 202-682-5864, extension 226.

Lisa A. Gilmore, Executive Director

D.C. Asthma Coalition


The Alexandria family in "Breathing Lessons" is to be commended for efforts to allergy-proof their home to improve their son's asthma. Post readers might be interested to know of a common asthma trigger that wasn't mentioned in the article -- perfume and other chemical fragrances.

Besides eliminating the use of perfume, cologne and aftershave, there are other steps families can take to create a fragrance-free and less-toxic home: Use safer cleaning products such as vinegar, baking soda and unscented soap and dishwashing agents; switch to fragrance-free products; and eliminate the use of lawn chemicals and pesticides.

Alternative products are readily available and there is a wealth of information on the Internet.

Laurie Holtan


Your article suggested that pets be kept outdoors or given away. Such moves are usually unnecessary and unwise.

Long before the advent of effective medications and HEPA filters, my parents chose to keep our cat and try other means to ward off my severe asthma attacks. I was taught not to handle the cat, and if I did, to wash my hands right away. The cat was kept off furniture and out of my bedroom. I was (happily) relieved of litter-box-scooping duties. The strategy worked.

As an adult, my symptoms flared after getting a dog. I adopted the tactics learned as a wheezing, sneezing kid, though I was stuck with the poop-scooping. I brushed the dog outdoors, refrained from full-bore nuzzling and used a helpful dander-neutralizing lotion. I've lived happily with dogs ever since.

Banishing a companion animal to live outdoors risks his safety and adversely affects behavior. Countless families manage allergies without tossing out living animals like an old rug. Their children learn valuable life lessons: There's more than one way to solve a problem, and pets are not disposable.

Robin Soslow

Silver Spring