Swimmer’s Itch

1 What is Swimmer’s Itch?

Swimmer's itch, as its name suggests is an itchy skin condition that you may probably get after you go swimming or walk through water.

Also called cercarial dermatitis, swimmer’s itch is caused by an allergic response to microscopic parasites found in waterfowl and some animals that live near freshwater lakes, ponds and occasionally salt water.

As the parasites cannot survive for a longer time in humans, the symptoms last for only a few days.

Itching is uncomfortable but can be relieved with over-the-counter or prescription medications.

2 Symptoms

Itchy rashes similar to reddish pimples or blisters is the main symptom of Swimmer’s itch. You may get the rashes as soon as you get out of the infested water or within few days of exposure.

Only the skin that is exposed such as that left uncovered by swimsuits, wet suits or waders is affected. With repeated exposure, the signs and symptoms get worse.
Any rash that you get after swimming could be a sign of swimmer’s itch. Talk to your doctor if the rash lasts more than a week.

Sometimes, the rash may contain pus. Your doctor may refer you to a doctor who specializes in skin disorders (dermatologist).

3 Causes

Swimmer’s itch is caused by an allergic response to microscopic parasites found. The parasites are found in the blood of waterfowl, geese, ducks, gulls, beavers or muskrats that live near ponds and lakes.

When these animals defecate near the water, the parasite's eggs can infect the water.

People, birds or animals are affected only after the hatched parasites have survived in a type of snail, often found near the shoreline.

This is why the infection is a common occurrence in shallow water.

Remember that swimmer's itch does not transmit from one person to another and you are not likely to get it from someone affected by the condition.

4 Making a Diagnosis

There is no specific test to diagnose swimmer’s itch as rashes are not the signs specific to this condition only. The diagnosis can often be a difficult task for your doctor.

After you visit your doctor, s/he may refer you to a specialist in skin conditions (dermatologist).
Getting prepared for the visit can optimize the therapy and help make the visit more fruitful.

List out all the symptoms. Write down your key medical information.

Write down the names of all your medications, vitamins or supplements. Make a list of the questions to ask your doctor.

Some typical questions can be:

  • What could be possible causes of my symptoms?
  • Do I need special treatment or the rashes will go away on their own?
  • How long will the rashes take to go away?
  • What your does doctor want to know?

A clear talk with your doctor can optimize the therapy and improve the outcomes. Prepare yourself to answer some essential questions from your doctor.

Your doctor might ask you typical questions like:

  • Have you noticed similar rashes in your friend who went swimming with you?
  • Have you been swimming or wading outdoors recently?

5 Treatment

Swimmer's itch is not a serious condition and the symptoms do not last longer than a few days or a week even without a treatment.

You may use over-the-counter anti-allergics or anti-itch creams like calamine lotion to ease itching.

6 Prevention

Following tips can help you prevent swimmer's itch:

  • Go swimming in selected places only.
  • Go to the areas that are free of snails.
  • Whenever possible, avoid the shoreline as swimmer's itch is common in shallow water.
  • Thoroughly wash your skin after swimming.
  • Use a thoroughly washed and dried swimsuit.
  • Don't feed birds on docks or near swimming areas.

7 Lifestyle and Coping

To avoid further affecting your lifestyle if you have swimmer's itch, do not irritate your skin.

Itching is often uncomfortable though it is harmless. Use a cream or a prescription medication to relieve an itch. You may also:

  • Cover affected areas with a clean, wet washcloth,
  • Soak in a bath containing baking soda or oatmeal,
  • Apply a paste of baking soda and water it to the affected areas.

8 Risks and Complications

The risk of the condition is proportional to the duration of your stay in the water.

Children: Children are fond of shallow water where the chances of infection are higher.

Inherent sensitivity: There are some people who have heightened sensitivity to swimmer’s itch that increases your risk.
Swimmer's itch is a non-serious skin condition and complications are rare. However, some infections might result due to vigorous scratching.