Swimmer’s Itch: Symptoms and First Aid

Swimmer’s itch pertains to a skin rash brought about by an allergic reaction from microscopic parasites entering the body. The parasites come from infection snails that are commonly found in fresh water but may also be found in salt water. Swimmer’s itch is more common during the summer months. It cannot be transmitted from one person to another.

Normally, the preferred hosts of the parasites are birds, such as geese, ducks, swans and gulls, and mammals, such as raccoons and muskrats. Their adult forms live in the blood of animals. However, when the parasite comes into contact with a swimmer, it can burrow itself inside the outer epidermal layer of the skin. When this happens, it leads to skin irritation and allergic reaction. Fortunately, because humans are not ideal hosts, the parasite will soon die within the skin. The parasites are in their larval form when they enter the body and cause swimmer’s itch.

Swimmer’s itch is also referred to as cercarial dermatitis.

Process of Swimmer’s Itch

As previously mentioned, the microscopic parasites live inside hosts.  This life cycle of the parasites leading to swimmer’s itch is as follows:

  • Parasites that live inside hosts reproduce by releasing eggs.
  • Once the eggs are produced, they are passed on to their host’s feces and urine.
  • The eggs only hatches when it is in water. Once it does, it releases microscopic larvae that are free swimming.
  • The larvae keep swimming in water until it finds a suitable host in an aquatic snail.
  • The infected snail multiplies and develops.
  • Another type of microscopic larva is released into the water by the infected snails.
  • It will then look for another favorable host, which are often birds and sometimes mammals. Their hosts can also be humans.
  • The larva enters the epidermis of the skin and survives for some time but eventually dies as it is not an ideal environment.

Symptoms of Swimmer’s Itch

The symptoms of swimmer’s itch do not always manifest immediately. Sometimes symptoms manifest within minutes but at other times, it may also take days. Symptoms frequently appear only the area of the body that was exposed. The common symptoms of swimmer’s itch include:

  • Itching, burning or tingling of the skin
  • Red, pimple-looking rashes that turn into small blisters, usually within 12 hours, and may increase in size

Symptoms of swimmer’s itch are usually mild. However, repeated exposure to infested water may lead to more serious symptoms. Thus, it is best to avoid these contaminated waters.

First Aid Management for Swimmer’s Itch

Although this skin irritation is frequently brief, first aid should always be applied to individuals suffering from swimmer’s itch to reduce the discomfort. Learn how to apply first aid on common skin conditions by enrolling in First Aid Classes. Medical help is not usually required. The following can be done to reduce symptoms of swimmer’s itch:

Scratching the rashes

Scratching the rashes brought about by swimmer’s itch can result to skin infection

  • Take anti-histamines to reduce the effects of the allergic reaction.
  • Apply a cool compress on the affected area to give relief.
  • Apply corticosteroid ointments or creams over the affected area.
  • Bathe in Epson salts or colloidal oatmeal to reduce itching.
  • One can also bathe in baking soda or apply baking soda paste over the rashes.
  • Do not scratch the rashes. Wear gloves to avoid scratching and infecting the rashes.

Swimmer’s itch refers to an allergic reaction brought about by parasites at their larval stage that enters the skin of a swimmer in fresh water.

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