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Prevent Swimmer’s Itch This Summer

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Sand at water's edge and a toddler's feet

Area outbreaks of swimmer’s itch usually start to appear in early July every summer. Lakes Regional Healthcare urges people to understand how to prevent, recognize symptoms of, and treat swimmer’s itch.

Swimmer’s itch is caused by parasites of birds and snails. These parasites, which are the larval form of certain flatworms, migrate through water in search of a host to complete its life cycle. During this process, they may inadvertently burrow into human skin. However, since humans are not their proper host, the larvae soon die. A person with swimmer’s itch cannot spread it to another person.

Symptoms of swimmer’s itch include itching and red spots. Itching is caused by an allergic reaction to the dead larvae under the skin. Not all people are sensitive or allergic to the larvae. Those who are sensitive may feel a dull prickly sensation as the larvae burrow into the skin. This may occur either while swimming or immediately after leaving the water. At each point of entry, a small red spot may appear and begin to itch. The itching often persists for several days.

There are a few actions people can take to prevent swimmer’s itch. First, since larvae usually live in shallow water near the shore, it is best to avoid this area as much as possible, especially if the wind is blowing toward the shore. Second, towel-dry the skin thoroughly and immediately as you leave the water and at frequent intervals instead of allowing water to evaporate off the skin. This can help rub the larvae off before they fully penetrate the skin. Third, shower and change clothes.

While all cases do not require treatment, some people may seek relief by applying specific skin lotions or creams such as a topical anesthetic or hydrocortisone cream, or by taking an oral antihistamine. However, before taking any medication, it is important to check with a local physician or pharmacist.

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