Keep your days at the lake fun and itch-free by following these precautions. (For Spectrum Health Beat)
Keep your days at the lake fun and itch-free by following these precautions. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Ahhh … summer.

Lazy days hanging out with friends, enjoying family and swimming at the beach.

It’s all fun and games until somebody develops swimmer’s itch.

“Swimmer’s itch is a reaction to a parasite that gets under the skin,” said Angela Weirich, MD, a primary care provider with Spectrum Health Family Medicine. “Some people will notice a pimply, itchy rash or welts almost immediately after they’ve been exposed, while it could take a day or two for others.”

These tips could help you avoid, or deal, with swimmer’s itch:

1. Ducks, geese and swans–oh my

Avoid swimming where there is waterfowl or other wildlife. Swimmer’s itch is caused by a parasite in the feces of animals.

So if the area is marshy, the beach is littered with goose droppings or if someone is feeding ducks, there’s a good chance that parasites are lurking under the surface. 

The parasites infect snails first, and then the snails release the parasites into the water, which is how they come into contact with humans.

2. Watch your kids

“Anyone can get swimmer’s itch,” Dr. Weirich said. “But we most often see it in children because they play in the shallow shoreline water for a long time, which means they’re more apt to be exposed.”

3. Be careful out there

Although you can get it in June or August, swimmer’s itch peaks in July. Was there a recent storm? You’re more likely to be exposed where the wind and waves have blown debris toward the shore.

4. Know where the action is

Lakes and ponds in Northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula are more likely to carry the swimmer’s itch parasite than bodies of water farther south. Also, it’s very unusual to get it from Lake Michigan or other large lakes.

5. Swim, rinse, dry

You’re less likely to get swimmer’s itch if you rinse your skin with clean water and dry off by rubbing briskly with a towel. This removes the parasites so they can’t get under your skin.

6. Get relief with over-the-counter treatments

Generally you don’t need to see a doctor for swimmer’s itch.

An antihistamine such as Benadryl will decrease the reaction. Rubbing on cortisone cream or calamine lotion will also make you more comfortable, Dr. Weirich said.

7. Don’t scratch where it itches

Scratching is almost irresistible, but scratching too vigorously can open the rash and lead to infection. If that happens, you should seek a doctor’s care.

8. Give it a week

It usually takes a good five days for the itchiness to go away. In the meantime, it may help to soak in a bath with Epsom salts, baking soda or oatmeal. Using cool compresses may help, too.

9. Don’t worry about being contagious

Swimmer’s itch can’t be passed from person to person.

It’s even OK for victims to go into a swimming pool as long as it is well maintained and chlorinated.

10. Avoid risks

Some people are more sensitive to the parasites than others, so they’ll get a rash when others don’t.

But even if you’ve avoided problems in the past, it’s important to know that your sensitivity can go up every time you swim with the parasites.

“Even if you get swimmer’s itch, you don’t need to worry about the parasites that caused it,” Dr. Weirich promised. “Once they crawl under your skin, they’ll die.”