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Poison Ivy, Poison Oak

Paul Palmer was born in NYC, went to Stuyvesant HS and Queens College, then to Yale for his PhD in Physical Chemistry.

In the 1970s he migrated to California and started Zero Waste Systems Inc. which introduced the term "Zero Waste."

They took unwanted chemicals from Silicon Valley and resold them for reuse. They took all of the unwanted laboratory chemicals from the Bay Area and sold them for half price. They had the largest inventory in California.

His book about that experience is called Getting To Zero Waste.

I have suffered from poison ivy and poison oak all my life. When I lived on the East Coast, it was poison ivy. On the West Coast it was poison oak. There seems to be little difference between the two sources.

Certainly the clinical symptoms are identical. Following any kind of contact by the skin with the shiny leaves of the plant, the skin at contact becomes "ripe" and soon a series of blisters erupt on the skin. These blisters itch strongly, urging the patient to scratch them, but scratching will serve to spread the rash over a wider area and so the common recommendation is to resist scratching, which is difficult. Naturally, a number of medicines, usually of doubtful efficacy, have been developed to reduce the itching.

Somewhere along the way, a new patient is almost certain to receive a recommendation to apply a hoary, traditional treatment called Calamine lotion, which is hardly more than a suspension of clay in water with a pink color.

As a sufferer, with long personal and group experience, I can state with certainty that Calamine lotion is totally of no useful effect. It does nothing to slow down or cure the disease. It's only claim is based on word of mouth over at least 150 years. Somehow, though it is not understood or questioned, the recommendation of Calamine lotion comes with an incantation that it is somehow "drying". This claim is not medically challenged and so this treatment option sails on for year after year despite being totally useless.

The saddest part is that often doctors have been so taken in by this remnant from the era of snake oil home remedies, that doctors will actually recommend it, in bland ignorance of the obvious ineffectiveness for actual patients. It is a frightening thought that these doctors could have learned about Calamine lotion from a medical school authority.

Poison oak may sometimes be regarded as a mere annoyance and inconvenience. It normally runs its course in a week or two, causing mostly discomfort and excessive and unpleasant itching. To highlight the potential seriousness of this disease, I can report on a case I had which spread continually until an area the size of a playing card was devoid of protective skin on the back of one calf. Fluid was continually oozing and running down and flies would land on it. There was little standing between loss of a leg to infection or even a potential loss of life, and a cure.

Fortunately, my personal physician had had actual clinical experience with the disease, from which he had actually learned a treatment (an unusual case) and he cured it immediately and masterfully, after other approaches had by then been failing for a month. While this advanced case of poison oak is surely not common, the potential for serious consequences should not be overlooked.

There is a common proscription, coming out of medical training, which turns out to be totally backward and wrong by 180 degrees. Doctors are trained to avoid allowing water to touch the blisters. The usual quasi-explanation offered is that water will "spread the blisters." Actual study of the effect of soaking in water seems to be entirely absent from the experience of these practitioners. This is the place to reveal that the method used by my personal physician to cure my serious disease was to soak in hot water, three times a day. This cured the rash completely in three days.

Later, when I became infected with poison ivy, at least twice a year or so, I spent a day soaking at the beach, where I was subject to water, salt, sand and sun. I didn't know then what the effective component was but I learned later that it was only the water. The other three components had little or no effect.

Chemists have of course attempted to find the actual allergen. It is reported to be a catechol with a variable alkyl group. People refer to it as an "oil". To my mind, as a chemist, it is closer to a typical surfactant than any oil.

I suspect that poison ivy/oak is not viewed seriously enough to warrant much research, and so fairly trivial conclusions are allowed to stand. No medical researcher will receive a Nobel Prize for his work on this disease, and scientific papers may even be viewed with suspicion.

As I have even recently checked, and established, doctors continue to prescribe treatments for this disease which are ineffective and expensive. They have the advantage that they require follow-up visits to the doctor for inspection and new prescriptions. They make use of superficially high-tech medicines that must be prescribed, notably hydrocortisone and antihistamines.

A doctor estimated to me the time to cure as being ten days. They may include some anti-itching internals or skin lotions. Mostly, they fit the image of the medical community that skin lesions are normally to be treated by epidermal applications of various lotions and ointments.















Most to be condemned is the occasional recommendation from doctors to use Calamine lotion. This fraudulent snake oil must be derogated by the medical community and should be eliminated from the conventional pharmacopeia.

As I have discovered by my own experience, a complete, speedy, simple cure for poison ivy/oak is accessible to every sufferer.

The cure which I will describe, suffers from one fatal flaw. It makes use of no preparation that a pharmaceutical company can produce. It will not produce profit for any portion of the conventional medical establishment. It uses a low-tech method, without making use of any steroids. It does not even require intervention by a doctor. It is absolutely the most unique treatment in the annals of medicine in one important respect, even though I hesitate to state this, as a statement of this nature is sure to be viewed with suspicion and dismissal. Yet, it is true.

The cure consists of the application of very hot water to the affected areas. I have been using this all my life and I have introduced many others to it. For reasons which will become clear, the water should be as hot as can be safely tolerated, perhaps in the neighborhood of 120 degrees Fahrenheit, though the degree of heat can be determined by trial and error in the event.

It will depend on the sensitivity of the skin area and the tolerance of the person. I generally refer to the water as scalding, though it must clearly be less than a temperature which can burn or injure the skin. It can be applied using a faucet or a sink spray. Occasionally it may be applied by soaking the whole body, though this is not usually a good idea. The problem is that a certain desirable effect is not obtained if the water is too cool, so there is a window of correct adjustment as the temperature is adjusted.

The hot water has about three effects.

On the blisters that have erupted, it completely eliminates all itching for about four hours. This is a personal boon, that markedly reduces the discomfort caused by the disease. Perhaps it washes away harmful substances but that is not for me to say without actual study. It starts a process of healing which is made evident by speedy and future healing as the treatment is repeated. And it has one more very remarkable effect.

Where the skin has been eroded, the hot water seems to cause all of some class of nerve to fire all at once, as though an unseen hand had scratched every itch in a moment and generated all of the relief of scratching an itch at once, massively. The effect can only be called orgasmic.

The feeling is so deliciously enjoyable as to be wonderful. The patient is entranced, and wants it to happen again and again if possible. But it is not possible. The immediate rush then abates, and each exposure of the skin to the water produces less feeling until, by the third exposure, the feeling is no longer able to be induced and the patient gives up. What he will learn however, is that in four or five hours, the skin will recover and he can repeat it all again.

Typically, the patient eagerly looks forward to the next treatment and can hardly wait until he can repeat the experience. So the continued treatment is assured. Over the course of a day or two, the blisters heal and the nervous response diminishes and disappears. On the third day, the rash is essentially gone.

There is another response which takes place on skin on which no blisters can be seen. On certain portions of skin, the allergen has begun its attack and the skin is in a pre-eruptive state. There is no visual clue of this state. The skin is not red, or pockmarked or loose. But the hot water reveals exactly where this pre-eruption is lurking by treating the patient to a similar enjoyable rush on this skin.

Depending on the state of the pre-eruption, the feeling may be strong or weak, but it is immediately localized. The hot water serves as a probe, to find the skin that is due to erupt. Typically, the skin will reverse its course and begin to heal quickly, and no blisters will ever erupt there.

I have successfully treated poison oak on my scrotum, penis and eyelids by using a spray carefully. The temperature may or may not need to be a bit cooler.

Here is where I point out the uniqueness which I claimed for this treatment above. The treatment feels so good that the patient almost doesn't want the disease to go away.

And the next time that he comes down with the disease, he may start thinking: "Great. I see new poison oak blisters. I can't wait for the hot water treatment!"

No other disease that I know of can elicit such a response from a patient.

~ Paul Palmer PhD

















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