Today on the Doc On the Run Podcast, we’re talking about the top 3 weapons against poison oak for trail runners.
It’s that time of year, and here in California there is tons of poison oak. I just actually did a 50 mile race recently, the American River Endurance Run, and I got poison oak on that run. Now, I’ve had many episodes with poison oak. I see lots of runners who get it on these long events, I see lots of runners that get it on their normal trail runs on Saturday or Sunday. And you don’t have to get poison oak, you can also do something about it if you do get poison oak.
So I thought I might do an episode to quickly talk about the three things that I use most often to prevent poison oak from getting on your skin, prevent it once it’s on your skin from actually taking hold, and what to do about it when you actually get a rash associated with poison oak. And, believe it or not, some of these things when I lecture at medical conferences, a lot doctors don’t even know about it. But you should know about them if you run on trails because these things will help you.
Now the best way to avoid poison oak is to not encounter it at all, to stay off of trails where there is no poison oak. But, that’s not realistic. I love running on trails, I love running in the woods, I love running where the conditions change, and in many cases what that means is that I am going to encounter some poison oak on the trail and hopefully I won’t get it on my skin, and get a rash. Because it is miserable when you get it.
I really hate poison oak, I mean I’ve had to take prednisone a couple of different times because I got it so bad my skin was actually bleeding. And that’s absolute misery, but you don’t want to get to that point. So there are several things you can do to prevent the rash from spreading and prevent it from getting worse.
Well the first thing is you have to understand that poison oak, you know, as you know it, it’s a plant and the oil from the leaf gets on your skin. Many people are severely allergic to it, and you get these little vesicles, or little bubbles like blisters on the skin that form when you get poison oak. If you then scratch it, the vesicles can break open and spread the irritant and the allergen to other areas of your skin. So it starts to spread.
So the first thing you have to do is keep the oil off of your skin. So the first weapon you should use against poison oak is to cover your skin. My favorite, in particular, is compression socks because most of the time the poison oak is relatively low to the ground, and if you’re wearing compression sleeves or compression socks in many cases you can prevent the oil from the leaves getting on your skin if you just wear compression socks.
If you don’t like running in compression socks, you could wear compression sleeves. Now I don’t wear those all the time when I run, in fact I really don’t like them. I prefer to not have a knee high socks on when I’m running, because I like the way that it feels to just not have those socks on. But, when I’m running on trails where I know there’s going to be a ton of poison oak, I wear them. Because I rather it get on the socks than on my skin.
Also, if you do that you have to be careful when you’re removing the compression socks and the compression sleeves. If you have sleeves and you just pull the thing right down and turn it inside out as it slides across the top of your foot, you’re going to be spreading the oils from the compression sleeve all down across the top of your foot. And that can cause a case of poison oak. So don’t do that.
If you’re wearing compression socks it’s a lot easier, that you can just pull the socks off but you don’t want to get your hands on the outside of the sock. Because you might wind up scratching yourself somewhere else and then next thing you know you have it on your chest, or your arm, or your neck, or somewhere else. So, you want to take those things off, and you want to wash them immediately. But try not to turn the sleeves inside out. That is one of the worst things you can do if you’ve been running through poison oak all morning.
Now obviously tights would be even better than compression socks, but here in California, you know, the season for poison oak is really in the spring and summer. And so if you’re wearing tights, you’re probably going to be too hot. So I’m not really going to go into that at length, but you could do the same thing.
But again, you have to be careful when removing them to make sure that you don’t get poison oak on your skin. If you’re wearing tights, you should probably keep your socks on when you’re removing the tights and then take the socks off after. That’s one way to prevent getting the oils on your skin.
Okay, so my second favorite tool against poison oak and rashes is actually a thing called Tecnu. And you’ve probably heard of this before, it’s Tecnu, T-E-C-N-U. We’ll put a link in the show notes, you can go to there to find it and read about it. But Tecnu is basically a skin cleanser that is designed especially to remove the oils that cause poison oak, poison ivy, and poison sumac rashes. So it basically decontaminates your skin, it binds to those oils, and pulls those oils off of your skin to prevent you from actually getting the rash associated with poison oak.
When I was in med school, I used to rock climb a lot and there was a couple of places I would go rock climbing that had tons of poison oak. One of them was the Pinnacles National Monument and the other was Mount Diablo. And when I would go there, I would actually take Tecnu, I kept it in my truck all the time and when I would go climb, I would climb all day and then as soon as I would get done, well first of all I’d wear a t-shirt and I would wear long pants. Because I didn’t want to get exposed to the poison oak.
But then when I would get back to the truck, the first thing I would do is I would take the Tecnu, it’s a solution, a thick solution. I would basically spread it all over my hands, and I would rub it all over my arms, all over my hands, all over any area that had been exposed that could have been brushed up against some poison oak leaves while I was out on the trail. I would then leave the Tecnu on for, you know, at least 15 minutes or so. And then I would go wash it off. And when you wash it off, it takes the oils off with you.
Tecnu is extremely effective at preventing the poison oak rash that would otherwise drive you completely nuts. So if I go run on a trail, I notice there’s a bunch of poison oak, I think I probably ran through some of it, I do the same thing. I immediately put it on my legs, my ankles, anywhere that would have been exposed that could have picked up some of those oils from the poison oak leaves. I then leave that stuff on while I’m driving home so it can really absorb all of those oils, and hopefully prevent it from getting into my skin and causing it a real problem.
You can get Tecnu anywhere, there are a couple of different versions of it. There’s an original one, and there’s another extreme one that has these little beads in it that kind of scrub the stuff off your skin a little more, it’s a little more abrasive. I truthfully don’t know which one’s more effective, but I am a huge fan of Tecnu. I keep it in the car, I have it in my shower, I have it at home. I keep it because I think it works. I don’t have any stock in Tecnu, I don’t get any kind of kick back if you buy it. But I think it’s hugely effective. So that is weapon number two, Tecnu.
So if you’re a runner, get some Tecnu and keep it in your car. And anytime you run on the trails, just put it on your skin afterward. I know a lot of runners also put it on their skin even before the run. I don’t particularly do that just because I think it’s greasy and it attracts a lot of dirt. But I understand that can help, as well. So that is another tip that you can try.
Now the third weapon against poison oak I’m going to talk about is something that your doctor may not even know about. But this is what I think is the best treatment, bar none, for poison oak. So when you get poison oak, a lot of times doctors will tell you to put some hydrocortisone cream on it. But to me personally, I think that’s like peeing on a forest fire. It’s just not going to do the trick.
In most cases you need a much stronger steroid, and you need some way to keep from scratching, and spreading those oils. If you get poison oak and you look at it, you’ll see that usually have a line of those little bitty blisters of vesicles, because you’ve scratched it and you’ve spread it across in a line, and the rashes spreads that way. You keep scratching and it just spreads more, and more, and more. So first of all, you don’t want to spread it once you get it. So what I really like best for poison oak is this thing called Cordran tape.
Cordran tape is actually an adhesive tape, it’s a prescription, it’s a medication, but it’s a prescription tape that has a medium strength steroid actually embedded within the tape.
So what you do, is you take the Cordran tape, it comes on a roll. You get it at your pharmacy, you have to have a prescription to get it. But you get the Cordran tape, you cut out a little square that’s big enough to cover the area where you got the poison oak. You peel off the backing, and you just stick it right on the skin. And that does two really important things.
The first thing it does from a practical standpoint is it stops you from spreading the oils. Even if you scratch it, you’re scratching the top of the tape, you’re not going to spread the oil anywhere. So even if you do scratch it, you’ve got it protected. If your clothes are rubbing on it, kind of irritating it, it stops that friction, it stops that irritation, it stops your clothes from spreading the poison oak oils that are in those little blisters on the rest of your skin.
The second thing it does, of course, is because it has a steroid in the tape, is it stops all that inflammation. So it really starts to treat it very, very quickly. And a lot better than the hydrocortisone stuff you’re going to buy over the counter at the pharmacy. So you’re treating it with a steroid just in that area on the skin. But at the same time, you’re sealing it off, stopping the friction, and you just forget about it very quickly.
Truthfully, when I get poison oak, and I put some of that Cordran tape on it, within a day or two, I’ve completely forgotten it’s there. And I just leave the tape on until it falls off. Sometimes I have to replace it a few days later after it’s fallen off in the shower. But most of the time, by the time the tape falls off, it’s done, the rash is done. It does not bothering me anymore, and I can just forget about it and move on.
So again, Cordran tape is a prescription. It is relatively expensive, but it is worth every single penny. There is nothing better in my opinion to treat poison oak once you get it and you have that itchy rash. It treats it, it stops the inflammation, it prevents you from spreading it, it prevents it from getting itchy just when your clothes rub on it, and it makes it heal and go away a whole lot faster. So that is my favorite thing when you actually get poison oak.
Again, you do have to have a prescription for it but if you get poison oak, you can go to the doctor, you can tell them about it, tell them I want a prescription for Cordran tape, C-O-R-D-R-A-N. And again, we’ll put it in the show notes so just go to this episode if you want to see it. I’ll show you what it’s like, there’s a little video on how to use it. And then just get the prescription, go fill it at your pharmacy and then you’re going to be set.
Now if you don’t have a doctor that you see normally, the other way to get it is to just do an online consultation or a phone consultation. So depending upon where you’re located, if you’re in California or Texas and you need it, you can just call me and I call in the prescription for you. If you are in another state where I’m not licensed or where there are laws that say you can’t do out of state consultations, well then you just call somebody in that state.
For example, if you’re in Colorado you can look up Telemedicine and for like, you know, $79 or something you can just call a doctor locally, talk to them, explain your situation, send a picture to them of the rash that you have, tell them you have poison oak, and they can write the prescription for you. It’s a simple thing to do.
It doesn’t take a long time, you don’t have to wait until Monday to get a prescription, you can call somebody and get the prescription today. But, Cordran tape is awesome and the roll of it will last you a long, long time. So even though it’s expensive, it’s worth every penny and it will last you for a couple of years. So don’t worry about the cost.
If you’re really allergic to poison oak, you’ve got to know these three things. You’ve got to use compression socks, or long pants to keep the oil off your skin, you have to use Tecnu or something to get the oils off your skin once they’re there, and if you’ve actually developed a rash, put Cordran tape on it to make it go away.
Those are my three top weapons against poison oak for trail runners.
If you have a question that you would like answered as a future edition the Doc On The Run Podcast, send it to me, and then make sure you join me in the next edition of the Doc On The Run Podcast. Thanks again for listening!