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Swimmer’s Itch – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Swimmer’s itch, otherwise known as cercarial dermatitis, is a rash caused by an allergy to certain parasites. These parasites typically get transmitted by infected snails into water bodies such as lakes and ponds. An interesting fact about these parasites is that humans are not suitable hosts for them. They tend to die after a few days of living on human skin. 

What is Swimmer’s Itch?

Swimmer’s itch is characterized by rashes caused by certain parasites that live in waterfowl and some mammals. These parasites are commonly found in freshwater bodies and rarely in salt water. Taking a swim in water bodies infected with these parasites can result in a swimmer’s itch. While it is uncomfortable, this condition usually clears up on its own within a few days. 

What are the Symptoms of Swimmer’s Itch?

The primary symptom of a swimmer’s itch is a set of rashes on your skin, especially right after a swim in an unpurified water body such as a lake, pond, or sea. These rashes look like blisters or pimples and are red. They usually appear on exposed skin, that is, parts not covered by clothing or protective material. These symptoms can worsen if the exposure is regular. 

When to Consult a Doctor?

Seek medical attention if you notice a rash that lasts for more than three days, especially if it has pus coming out of it. You can schedule an appointment with a dermatologist to diagnose and treat the infection.

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What Causes a Swimmer’s Itch?

The primary cause is a parasite called schistosome. These parasites live in the blood of waterfowls and certain mammals. Some of the animals that carry schistosomes are geese, gulls, ducks, beavers, and muskrats. These animals infect water bodies with these parasites when they excrete in them as schistosome eggs in their feces. Before infecting birds or other animals , these parasites must first hatch and live in a type of snail. Therefore, the swimmer’s itch is more common among people who spend a lot of time in shallow waters. Fortunately, you do not have to worry about contracting a swimmer’s itch from an infected person as it is not a contagious infection (among people).

How Can Swimmer’s Itch be prevented?

Here are some tips you can follow:

  • Choose your swimming spot carefully: Do not swim in water bodies where several swimmer’s itch cases have got reported. Stay away from areas you suspect are infested, especially if they are shallow waters and have many snails. Swimming in swimming pools is relatively safe as they are purified and cleaned regularly. 
  • Avoid the shoreline: If the sea or ocean is not too rough and you can swim in deep waters, choose to do so! Snails tend to dwell more along the shores, and so, swimming in deep waters can keep you safe from swimmer’s itch. 
  • Rinse after swimming: Regardless of whether you swim in public pools, water bodies, or private swimming pools, wash thoroughly with water after every swim. Wipe off with a clean towel and keep yourself dry. Wash your bathing suit thoroughly as well.
  • Apply waterproof sunblock: Wearing waterproof sunscreen before jumping in for a swim can not only protect your skin from harmful UV rays but also from parasites that cause swimmer’s itch. 

How is Swimmer’s Itch Diagnosed?

There are no specific diagnostic tests for swimmer’s itch. Diagnosing a swimmer’s itch is extremely hard as the symptoms resemble signs of several other conditions. Your dermatologist will most likely conclude by asking you about your recent activity in water and examining your rashes closely.

How Can a Swimmer’s Itch be treated?

Swimmer’s itch usually disappears on its own as the human body does not serve as a compatible host for the parasites responsible for the infection. You can use OTC anti-itch creams to relieve yourself of any discomfort from the rashes.

Conclusion 

Swimmer’s itch is a mild condition that does not pose any serious risk to your health. Recurring rashes can get worse each time they come back. Therefore, it is advised to take precautions and stay away from swimming until they clear up. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How long does swimmer’s itch last?

Swimmer’s itch rashes usually occur within 12 hours of exposure to the parasites. The symptoms last for 2-5 days. Sometimes, the infection can last up to 2 weeks. Recurring rashes are usually more severe. It gets advised to stay away from water bodies until the rashes clear up. 

Do swimmer’s itch rashes leave scars?

While swimmer’s itch rashes usually clear up on their own and do not leave any scars, picking at the blisters might leave permanent marks. Doing this might not only lead to scarring but also cause secondary skin infections.

Which age group is more likely to contract swimmer’s itch?

While swimmer’s itch can affect anyone regardless of age, it is commonly seen in children. It is because they tend to play more in shallow waters and muddy areas. Children are also more careless about their cleanliness, and they might forget to clean themselves thoroughly after play or a swim.

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