Swimmer’s Itch

What is swimmer’s itch?

Swimmer’s itch is a skin rash you may get after swimming in a pond, lake, river, or ocean.

What is the cause?

It is caused by a parasite carried by snails, ducks, geese, and other animals living near the water. When you swim in the water, the parasite gets into your skin. The parasite can’t be passed from person to person.

What are the symptoms?

The first symptom is itching that starts 1 to 2 hours after you leave the water. The itching is usually mild at first. The itching may go away, then return after several hours. The itching is usually more intense when it comes back.

A pinpoint red rash may develop, but you can have itching without a rash.

How is it diagnosed?

Your provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine you. Tell your provider where you were swimming or wading.

How is it treated?

Don’t scratch your skin even though it itches. Scratching may break the skin and cause infection. If you think your skin might be infected, contact your healthcare provider.

The itch and rash may last just a few hours or several days. It is unusual for the symptoms to last longer than a week unless you go back into water contaminated with the parasite.

To help relieve the itching:

  • Put a nonprescription 1% hydrocortisone ointment or cream on small itchy areas. Follow the directions on the package. Do not use hydrocortisone too often or on large areas of your body. It can irritate the skin and make itching worse. Check with your healthcare provider before you use hydrocortisone on babies.
  • Try a nonprescription oral antihistamine such as Benadryl, especially at bedtime if the itching keeps you awake at night. Use it according to the package instructions. Do not put antihistamine cream or lotion on your skin if you are taking antihistamine pills.

How can I help prevent swimmer’s itch?

Check with local officials to find out if the parasite is a problem in the area where you want to swim. Dry off well using a towel with a rubbing motion as soon as you get out of the water. This may help prevent the parasite from getting into your skin.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-07-31
Last reviewed: 2014-07-31
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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