Swimmer’s Itch

What is Swimmer’s Itch

Swimmer’s itch is an itchy rash that can happen after swimming or wading in water. It is also called cercarial dermatitis. This condition happens most often in freshwater, but it may also occur in salt water.

It cannot be spread from person to person (is not contagious). The rash usually lasts for about one week.

What are the causes?

This condition is caused by a microscopic parasite. This parasite normally infects animals that live by the water, such as ducks or geese. The eggs of the parasite get into the water from stool (feces) of the infected animal. If a human makes contact with the parasite in the water, it causes swimmer’s itch, which is an allergic reaction to the parasite.

What increases the risk?

This condition is more likely to develop in:

  • Warmer weather.
  • People who wade or swim in shallow water.

What are the signs or symptoms?

Symptoms of this condition include:

  • Itching, tingling, or a burning feeling shortly after coming out of the water. Sometimes, the itching is severe.
  • Red bumps. These occur most often on skin that is not covered by a bathing suit. The bumps can form small blisters.

How is this diagnosed?

This condition is diagnosed with a medical history and physical exam.

How is this treated?

Treatment for this condition includes home care. Treatment may also include medicines, such as:

  • Antihistamines. These may be applied as creams or taken orally.
  • Steroid creams.

Follow these instructions at home:

  • Take or apply over-the-counter and prescription medicines only as told by your health care provider. These may include:
    • Corticosteroid cream.
    • Oral antihistamines.
  • Apply cool compresses to the affected areas.
  • Try taking a bath with:
    • Epsom salts. Follow the instructions on the packaging. You can get these at your local pharmacy or grocery store.
    • Baking soda. Pour a small amount into the bath as directed by your health care provider.
    • Colloidal oatmeal. Follow the instructions on the packaging. You can get this at your local pharmacy or grocery store.
  • Try applying baking soda paste to your skin. To make this paste, stir a small amount of water into baking soda until it reaches a paste-like consistency.
  • Do not scratch your skin.
  • Avoid hot showers or baths, which can make itching worse. A cold shower may help with itching.
  • Pay attention to any changes in your condition. Watch your skin for signs of infection, such as redness, tenderness, or pus that comes from the rash.
  • Keep all follow-up visits as told by your health care provider. This is important.

How is this prevented?

  • Avoid wading or swimming in or near marshy areas.
  • Do not swim or wade in bodies of water where swimmer’s itch is a problem.
  • Do not feed birds near places where people swim.
  • Rub yourself dry with a towel or take a shower right after you get out of the water.

Contact a health care provider if:

  • Your rash gets worse.
  • Your rash does not improve after three days.
  • You develop signs of infection, such as redness, tenderness, or pus that comes from the rash.
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