Swimmer’s Itch

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Swimmer’s itch refers to an itchy rash that is caused due to certain parasites that usually live on freshwater snails and waterfowl.

Usually on warm, sunny days, the parasites are released into freshwater and sometimes saltwater. When you are swimming, these parasites may reside in your skin and cause swimmer’s itch. However, humans do not provide suitable living conditions for these parasites so these parasites will eventually die in the skin.

Swimmer’s itch may cause some discomfort, however, the condition is usually short-lived. The rash that occurs is also known as cercarial dermatitis, which normally disappears on its own within a few days. You can control itching using prescription or over-the-counter medication until the rash clears up.

Signs ands symptoms

Swimmer’s itch may cause:

  • Itching that starts within a few hours or days
  • A red, raised rash

Swimmer’s itch usually occurs in exposed regions of the skin and not on areas covered by wet suits, swim suits or waders. The rash may develop within 48 hours after swimming in freshwater infested with parasites, but you may also experience itching without the rash ever developing. Exposure to the same parasites again may result in a more severe rash than last time.

When to seek medical attention

See your doctor if your rash is persistent for more than one week or if you notice pus on the rash area. Your doctor might refer you to a dermatologist.


Swimmer’s itch refers to an allergic reaction to freshwater parasites that occur in ducks, swans, geese, gulls, beavers and muskrats. The parasites migrate from these animals and return to water through eggs and infected feces.

Swimmer’s itch is not a contagious condition so you do not have to worry about catching the infection from another person with the problem.


Swimmer’s itch normally disappears on its own within a few days without treatment; however, in some cases the rash may last for more than a week. Until the rash clears up, you can control the itching using over-the-counter antihistamines or anti-itch medications or creams such as the ones containing calamine lotion. If the rash and itching are severe, you doctor may prescribe medication to treat symptoms.

In the meantime, it may be tempting to scratch the area; however, it is important that you don’t scratch. Along with the use of anti-itch creams, it may be helpful if you:

  • Cover affected regions of the skin with a clean, damp washcloth
  • Soak in bathwater with Epsom salts, oatmeal or baking soda
  • Make a paste with baking soda and water and apply to affected region of the skin

If the itching is too severe, consult your doctor to receive prescription medication to improve symptoms and speed up recovery.

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