Are you visiting a lake this year? Beware of swimmers itch! This unpleasant rash is caused by an allergic reaction to microscopic parasites picked up while swimming. The parasites associated with swimmer’s itch are the larvae of flatworms, which normally live in a host, such as waterfowl. The waterfowl excrete the worm which gets picked up by snails that tend to live close to the shore.
Swimmers itch is most common in freshwater lakes and ponds. The season begins in early summer, when the water is its warmest. There is some good news here – the season is relatively short – usually about four to six weeks.
swimmers-itchThe parasites cause reddish, hive-like bumps that are usually very itchy. Generally, the bumps are limited to areas of the body that get exposed to the water. So, areas that are covered by your bathing suit are usually not involved. The bumps can appear within minutes or up to a few days after swimming or wading in infested water.
Children are at the highest risk of getting swimmer’s itch, because they tend to play in shallow water and do not always towel off after leaving the water.
No, it is not contagious from person to person.
Typically, the rash will clear up on its own within a week. You can help the itching with over-the counter cortisone or antihistamine cream. Cool compresses, calamine lotion or colloidal oatmeal baths, such as Aveeno, may also help.
I tell my patients to towel off liberally when they get out of the water, and shower after swimming. Some people have noted that waterproof sunscreens and lotions reduce the infections- another great reason to apply sunscreen (hint, hint)!
If you’re worried about swimmer’s itch, look for signage posted that may warn you of a high risk area. Higgins Lake in Roscommon, Michigan is notorious for swimmer’s itch. Local efforts are underway to treat the waterfowl population.
Mariana Atanasovski, MD is a board-certified dermatologist and works with Allure Dermatology patients of all ages – from infancy through adulthood. She treats a variety of conditions from acne to rashes to skin cancers. Dr. Atanasovski accepts new patients same day whenever possible.