Wetsuits are commonly worn for warmth and the protection it can provide against sharp corals, UV rays, and jellyfish stings. But did you know that wetsuits may also offer some protection against swimmer’s itch, a skin rash caused by an allergic reaction to certain microscopic parasites?
Yes, wetsuits can prevent swimmer’s itch by covering up most of your skin which prevents the parasites from burrowing through. However, you can still get swimmer’s itch from any exposed areas. The only way to truly prevent swimmer’s itch is to not enter the water at all. Otherwise, wearing a wetsuit, skinsuit, rash guard, and other barriers are effective.
In this article, we’ll explore how wetsuits might help prevent swimmer’s itch and discuss other preventive measures to keep in mind while enjoying your time in the water.
What is Swimmer’s Itch?
Swimmer’s itch or duck rash, also known as cercarial dermatitis, is a skin rash caused by an allergic reaction to certain parasites found in some bodies of water. The rash can be quite irritating and uncomfortable, but it’s usually not dangerous.
The parasites responsible for swimmer’s itch are released from infected snails into both fresh and saltwater, like in lakes, ponds, and oceans.
How Does One Get Swimmer’s Itch?
This irritation occurs when the parasites, which normally infect birds and animals like ducks and waterfowl, mistakenly burrow into your skin while you’re swimming or wading in shallow water.
The parasites don’t survive in humans, so they eventually die, but not before causing itching, burning, and sometimes even blisters as they burrow into your skin.
Swimmer’s itch is more common in marshy areas and along shorelines where ducks and other waterfowl are likely to be. It tends to be more prevalent in the summertime, especially in warmer, calmer waters.
Unsurprisingly, people who spend more time in the water are at a higher risk of contracting swimmer’s itch. The rash can resemble pimples or blisters filled with pus and may appear within hours of exposure.
While swimmer’s itch is not contagious among humans, you shouldn’t underestimate it; be aware of potential infection areas and take precautions to avoid it, such as drying off immediately after swimming in freshwater lakes, rivers, or ponds.
Can Wetsuits Prevent Swimmer’s Itch?
So swimmer’s itch sounds kind of terrifying – parasites burrowing into your skin and forming blisters full of pus? Yuck! How can we prevent that? Aside from simply not entering the water altogether (the only surefire way to avoid it), the next best thing is to cover your skin up, such as by wearing a wetsuit.
The Barrier Principle: How Wetsuits May Reduce Exposure
Wearing a wetsuit while swimming can potentially reduce your exposure to swimmer’s itch because the parasite can’t penetrate the wetsuit material.
By covering most of your body, you leave less of your skin exposed to this parasite, and you can also get added protection from the cold, UV rays, and sharp objects. This barrier minimizes the chance of the parasites coming into contact with your exposed skin, lowering the risk of itchiness and irritation.
Other Proactive Measures to Avoid Swimmer’s Itch
According to a Mayo Clinic report, swimmer’s itch can be prevented by avoiding infected areas altogether. But not taking a relaxing dip into the water when it’s nice and sunny out? Maybe we need to think of other options.
Wearing a wetsuit might be a practical way to prevent this condition when swimming in affected waters. That being said, there are also other prevention methods you should consider, even if you are wearing a wetsuit:
- Apply cool compresses to affected areas to reduce swelling and itching
- Showering after swimming can help remove parasites from your skin and reduce the risk of irritation.
- Applying waterproof sunscreen might reduce the parasites’ ability to penetrate the skin.
- Towel drying immediately after swimming can help remove any lingering parasites.
- Take an Epsom salt or colloidal oatmeal bath to soothe the skin.
- Use over-the-counter creams, such as corticosteroid cream or anti-itch cream to help relieve itchiness and inflammation.
However, if symptoms worsen or if you develop complications such as bacterial infections, consult with a healthcare professional or dermatologist.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does swimmer’s itch typically last?
Swimmer’s itch can last anywhere from a few days to more than a week. It depends on the individual and the severity of the exposure to the parasite. If your rash persists for more than three days, it’s a good idea to see a healthcare provider.
Is swimmer’s itch dangerous or just bothersome?
While swimmer’s itch can be quite bothersome and uncomfortable, it is generally not dangerous. However, continuous scratching can lead to secondary bacterial infections. So, take care of the affected skin and avoid further irritation.
What can be done to prevent swimmer’s itch?
To reduce your chances of getting swimmer’s itch, avoid swimming in areas where outbreaks have been reported. Rinse off with fresh water immediately after exiting the water and dry your skin thoroughly with a clean towel. Protective measures such as wearing a wetsuit can also help.
What are the best treatments for swimmer’s itch?
Over-the-counter anti-itch creams, cold compresses, or anti-inflammatory medications may help relieve the itching and discomfort caused by swimmer’s itch. If your symptoms are severe or persist, consult a healthcare provider for further guidance.
Can one develop immunity to swimmer’s itch?
No, and in fact, signs and symptoms of swimmer’s itch tend to worsen with each exposure to the parasites. Therefore, developing immunity to swimmer’s itch is unlikely. Instead, focus on prevention and proper treatment.
Are specific groups more susceptible to swimmer’s itch?
Swimmer’s itch can affect anyone, regardless of age or health status. However, those with more sensitive skin or frequent exposure to affected areas may experience more severe or longer-lasting symptoms. Stay informed to minimize your risk and enjoy your time in the water.