Swimmer’s itch is a skin rash that appears after you have been swimming or wading in natural bodies of water. It is more common in warm freshwater (lakes and ponds), but it can also occur in salt water.
Swimmer’s itch is an allergic reaction to a specific parasite. The parasite enters the water through the waste of infected birds and snails. If the parasite comes in contact with your skin, it can burrow under the skin and cause a reaction.
Swimmer’s itch is more common after:
Swimming or wading in warm fresh or salt water
Swimming or wading in warm shallow water near the shoreline
Long periods of time in the water
Previous episodes of swimmer’s itch
Swimming in locations with onshore winds
Swimming in areas with a lot of birds
Swimmer’s itch is also more common in children since they tend to stay in shallow water.
Symptoms can occur quickly. In most cases, you will notice skin irritation before the rash appears. Symptoms can include:
Parasites—Cercarial dermatitis (known as swimmer’s itch). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/swimmersitch/index.html. Updated January 10, 2012. Accessed December 14, 2017.
Swimmer’s itch. American Osteopathic College of Dermatology website. Available at: http://www.aocd.org/?page=SwimmersItch. Accessed December 14, 2017.
Swimmer’s itch. DermNet New Zealand website. Available at: https://www.dermnetnz.org/topics/swimmers-itch. Accessed December 14, 2017.
Verbrugge LM, Rainey JJ, Reimink RL, Blankespoor HD. Prospective study of swimmer’s itch incidence and severity. J Parasitol. 2004;90(4):697-704.
Last reviewed November 2018 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Marcie L. Sidman, MD
Last Updated: 12/14/2017
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