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Swimmer's Itch

What is Swimmer's Itch?

Swimmer's itch, also called cercarial dermatitis, appears as a skin rash caused by an allergic reaction to certain parasites that infect some birds and mammals. These microscopic parasites are released from infected snails into fresh salt water (such as lakes, ponds, and oceans). While parasite's preferred host is the specific bird or mammal, if the parasite comes into contact with a swimmer, it burrows into the skin causing an allergic reaction and rash. Swimmer's itch is found throughout the world and is more frequent during summer months. Most cases of swimmer's itch do no require medical attention. 

Signs and Symptoms of Swimmer's Itch

Symptom's of swimmer's itch may include: 

  • tingling, burning, or itching of the skin
  • small reddish pimples
  • small blisters

Within minutes to days after swimming in contaminated water, you may experience tingling, burning, or itching of the skin. Small reddish pimples appear within twelve hours. Pimples may develop into small blisters. Scratching the areas may result in secondary bacterial infections. Itching may last up to a week or more, but will gradually go away.

Because swimmer's itch is causes by an allergic reaction to infection, the more often you swim or wade in contaminated water, the more likely you are to develop more serious symptoms. The greater the number of exposures to contaminated water, the more intense and immediate symptoms of swimmer's itch will be. 

Be aware that swimmer's itch is not the only rash that may occur after swimming in fresh or salt water. 

Some Treatments for Swimmer's Itch

  • Use corticosteroid cream
  • apply cool compresses to the affected areas
  • Bathe in Epsom salts of baking soda
  • Soak in colloidal oatmeal baths
  • Apply baking soda paste to the rash (made by stirring water into baking soda until it reaches a paste-like consistency)
  • Use an anti-itch lotion

For more information visit the CDC website.

Swimmer's Itch