Definition

What is swimmer’s itch?

Swimmer’s itch is a rash caused by an allergic reaction to the larvae of certain parasites. The parasites can get under your skin when you swim in freshwater (such as lakes and ponds) and sometimes salt water. But you can’t get swimmer’s itch from swimming pools that are treated with chlorine.

The tiny parasites infect birds or mammals and lay eggs. Bird and mammal droppings that contain the eggs get into lakes and ponds. The eggs hatch into larvae, which then infect snails. The snails in turn release the larvae into the water, where the larvae look for a host. If they come in contact with people, the parasites can burrow under the skin. This causes an allergic reaction and a rash.

But the larvae can’t survive in humans, so the parasites die. As a result, the rash usually goes away on its own and doesn’t need treatment. The rash can’t be spread from person to person.

How common is swimmer’s itch?

Swimmer’s itch is most common in freshwater lakes and ponds, but it occasionally occurs in salt water. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of swimmer’s itch?

The common symptoms of swimmer’s itch are:

  • A rash that usually goes away in about a week.
  • An itching or burning feeling on your skin.
  • Pimples that show up several hours after you were in the water. The pimples may later turn into blisters.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.

Causes

What causes swimmer’s itch?

The parasites that cause swimmer’s itch live in the blood of waterfowl and in animals that live near ponds and lakes. Examples include:

  • Geese
  • Ducks
  • Gulls
  • Beavers
  • Muskrats

The parasite’s eggs enter the water via their hosts’ feces. Before infecting birds, animals or people, the hatched parasites must live for a time within a type of snail. These snails live near the shoreline, which explains why infections occur most often in shallow water.

Swimmer’s itch isn’t contagious from person to person, so you don’t need to worry about catching swimmer’s itch from someone who has this itchy rash.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for swimmer’s itch?

The parasites that cause swimmer’s itch live in the blood of waterfowl and in animals that live near ponds and lakes. The more time you spend in infested water, the higher your risk of swimmer’s itch. Children may have the highest risk, since they tend to play in shallow water and are less likely to dry off with a towel.

Some people are more sensitive to swimmer’s itch than others are. And, your sensitivity can increase each time you’re exposed to the parasites that cause swimmer’s itch.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is swimmer’s itch diagnosed?

Diagnosing swimmer’s itch can be a challenge because the rash can resemble other skin problems, such as poison ivy. There are no specific tests to diagnose swimmer’s itch.

How is swimmer’s itch treated?

Swimmer’s itch typically clears up on its own within a week. In the meantime, you can control itching with over-the-counter antihistamines or anti-itch creams, such as those that contain calamine. If the itching is severe, your doctor may recommend a prescription medication.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage swimmer’s itch?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with swimmer’s itch:

  • Apply a cream or medication.
  • Don’t scratch.
  • Cover affected areas with a clean, wet washcloth.
  • Soak in a bath sprinkled with Epsom salts, baking soda or oatmeal.
  • Make a paste of baking soda and water, and then apply it to the affected areas.

The parasites that cause swimmer’s itch live in the blood of waterfowl and in animals that live near ponds and lakes. To reduce the risk of swimmer’s itch:

  • Choose swimming spots carefully. Avoid swimming in areas where swimmer’s itch is a known problem or signs warn of possible contamination. Also avoid swimming or wading in marshy areas where snails are commonly found.
  • Avoid the shoreline, if possible. If you’re a strong swimmer, head to deeper water for your swim. You may be more likely to develop swimmer’s itch if you spend a lot of time in warmer water near the shore.
  • Rinse after swimming. Rinse exposed skin with clean water immediately after leaving the water, then vigorously dry your skin with a towel. Launder your swimsuits often.
  • Skip the bread crumbs. Don’t feed birds on docks or near swimming areas.
  • Apply waterproof sunscreen. This has been reported to protect the skin from the parasite that causes swimmer’s itch.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Review Date: September 18, 2017 | Last Modified: September 18, 2017

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