Swimmer’s itch is a skin rash that appears after you have been swimming or wading in natural bodies of water. It is more common in warm freshwater (lakes and ponds), but it can also occur in salt water.
Swimmer’s itch is an allergic reaction to a specific parasite. The parasite enters the water through the waste of infected birds and snails. If the parasite comes in contact with your skin, it can burrow under the skin and cause a reaction.
Swimmer’s itch is more common after:
Swimmer’s itch is also more common in children since they tend to stay in shallow water.
Symptoms can occur quickly. In most cases, you will notice skin irritation before the rash appears. Symptoms can include:
There is no skin or blood test to diagnose swimmer’s itch. The doctor will base the diagnosis on information about recent activities and the appearance of the rash.
The rash will go away on its own within a few days without medical treatment.
Scratching can cause further damage to the skin and increase the risk of infection. Itching may be relieved with:
A severe rash may require prescription strength medication.
To help reduce your chance of getting swimmer’s itch:
American Academy of Dermatology
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Canadian Dermatology Association
Public Health Agency of Canada
Parasites—Cercarial dermatitis (known as swimmer’s itch). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/parasites/swimmersitch/index.html. Updated January 10, 2012. Accessed July 29, 2014.
Schistosomiasis. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T901358/Schistosomiasis. Updated January 29, 2016. Accessed October 3, 2016.
Swimmer’s itch. American Osteopathic College of Dermatology website. Available at: http://www.aocd.org/?page=SwimmersItch. Accessed July 29, 2014.
Swimmer’s itch. DermNet NZ website. Available at: http://www.dermnetnz.org/arthropods/swimmers-itch.html. Updated December 29, 2013. Accessed July 29, 2014.
Verbrugge LM, Rainey JJ, et al. Prospective study of swimmer’s itch incidence and severity. J Parasitol. 2004;90(4):697-704.
Last reviewed July 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.