What is Swimmer's Itch?

Q: My family went up north and went swimming. Now we all have this weird itchy rash. What is this rash?

A: You have most likely acquired swimmer’s itch. It occurs mainly in the northern central region of the United States, in fresh waters during the warmer months. A parasite that lives between snails and other animals (namely ducks, cows, sheep or rodents) accidentally infests humans that swim in the infested water. The parasite cannot live in on a human host, so it dies, leaving a nice itchy rash. 

The rash is a fine red bumpy rash, over exposed parts of skin. Sometimes it can get worse with repeated exposure. The itchiness and rash are supposed to last about a day or two. 

Brisk toweling after swimming may prevent the parasites from infesting the skin. If the rash does develop, anti-itch medications, like antihistamines and anti-inflammatory medications can help. If the skin is broken from itching, antibiotics may be necessary to cover secondary infections. If the rash is worsening despite home care, and if you think the skin is getting infected (with redness and crusting)  you may want to contact your health care provider. 

By Sharon Rink, MD, pediatrician, ThedaCare Physicians-Darboy.