Swimmer’s Itch and How to Prevent it

Many Minnesotans have likely experienced swimmer’s itch at some point in their lives, especially if you have a lakefront property or spend most summer days swimming at the lake. If you’ve had it, then you also know that it is an irritating rash that can come on somewhat suddenly. 

Everyone’s reaction to swimmer’s itch is different, and not everyone will have a severe reaction. Whether or not you’ve had swimmer’s itch before, if you are someone that loves the water and wants to avoid it, the team at Waterfront Restoration is here to share our secrets about how to help prevent swimmer’s itch. 

What is swimmer’s itch?

Swimmer’s itch is an allergic reaction usually in the form of a temporary skin rash to a microscopic parasite that lives in the first few inches of freshwater lakes and ponds. The parasites are carried to various areas by waterfowl, snails, and semi-aquatic mammals (such as ducks or geese) that move between water sources. 

When the parasite comes into contact with human skin, it burrows, causing a rash. Luckily, these parasites die shortly after penetrating your skin. So, the itching and rash are not actually from the parasite living in your skin, but an allergic reaction, which is why some people have a more severe reaction than others.

While some people appear to not react to the parasite at first, your sensitivity can increase with each exposure to them. 

Symptoms and treatments 

The most common symptoms of swimmer’s itch include: 

  • Itching or burning feeling on the skin
  • Rash that resembles pimples or blisters
  • Rash that appears anywhere from minutes to a week after swimming

Once you have swimmer’s itch, depending on the severity of your rash, you’ll want to treat the symptoms. At-home treatments include: 

  • A cold compress on irritated skin
  • Calamine lotion to ease itching 
  • General anti-itch creams 
  • Oatmeal-based bath products and lotions

Severe rashes, pus present at the rash site, or a reaction that persists for more than a week may require medical attention. Avoid itching the rash area as this may cause infection, more swelling, and fever over time. 

How to help prevent swimmer’s itch

If you love water but not swimmer’s itch, you’ll need to know how to prevent a rash from occurring.

Our Waterfront Restoration team recommendation is to rub baby oil on your body before getting into the water. By applying a water-repelling substance to your skin, it prevents the parasites from burrowing into your skin. 

Then, after you get out of the water, rinse off with soap and water and dry off with a towel. 

Other ways to prevent swimmer’s itch include: 

  • Avoid water areas that have known parasites present. 
  • Remove lake weeds and muck, as many host snails gather in these aquatic areas (let Waterfront Restoration help you keep away these harmful snails!).
  • Swim away from the shoreline in deeper water where parasites are less likely to live.
  • Don’t feel waterfowl near your waterfront property, as this can increase the likelihood of parasites.
  • Use waterproof sunscreen. It has a similar effect to baby oil as it is a water-repelling substance.  
  • Apply water-resistant insect repellent that has DEET and suncreen that has .1-1% of niclosamide, these can deter parasites from harming you.

Learn more about Waterfront Restoration services and how we can help protect your lakefront property and keep your shoreline weed-free.