Understanding Swimmer’s Itch

For most families, summer vacation means taking a trip to the cottage for barbecues and fun activities out on the beach. If your kids are spending more time swimming in a lake this summer, they may develop a minor skin infection or rash, more commonly known as “swimmer’s itch”. This condition is caused by small larvae found in certain lakes and bodies of slow moving fresh water that typically live on snails during their life cycle. These larvae are so small that they are not visible to the naked eye.
When kids are out swimming or wading, these larvae can stick to the skin and cause an allergic reaction. Although generally harmless, swimmer’s itch can be unpleasant and last for a few days.
What are the symptoms?

What are the symptoms?

  • Shortly after emerging from the water, bathers will notice a tingling sensation on exposed parts of the body
  • Small red spots will appear on the skin, especially on all uncovered parts of the body which were exposed to water
  • After a few hours, the reds spots will have enlarged and will itch like an insect bite
  • The condition typically lasts for 4-5 days, but may persist
How can it be treated?

How can it be treated?

Your physician can recommend the best treatment for your child, but most commonly, parents are advised to:

  • Avoid scratching, which may cause a more serious skin infection
  • To relieve itching, rub a cream or calamine lotion onto affected areas
  • Contact your health physician immediately if itching continues for more than a few days
How can swimmer’s itch be prevented?

How can swimmer’s itch be prevented?

You can reduce the chances of contracting swimmers' itch by:

  • Staying away from beaches where swimmer’s itch has been reported, and avoiding areas where dense aquatic vegetation is found.
  • Try and limit your swimming to shorter intervals of time
  • When you leave the water, towel your child down vigorously, or take a quick shower to rinse off residual lake water
  • Let other people know if your child has developed swimmer’s itch
Still concerned?

Still concerned?

Know the facts:

  • Swimmer’s itch cannot be spread from one person to another
  • There is no relation between swimmer’s itch and water pollution
  • To know more, contact the nearest Info-Sante service in your region
Source: Watch Out! When Swimmer’s Itch is in the Water –Ministère de Santé et Services sociaux
Photo credit: Alexi Ueltzen