Swimmers itch; what it is and how to avoid it - WNEM TV 5

Swimmers itch; what it is and how to avoid it

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Many families who returned from their holiday vacation this week brought something back with them that they didn't want. 

It's called swimmer's itch, and while it doesn't last very long it can be a pain to deal with. 

"It's itchy. It's miserable. You're scratching all over," said Matthew Deibel, medical director at Covenant.

It can easily ruin a good vacation.

"Someone who comes out of fresh, shallow water notices little red bumps that itch a little bit," Deibel said. "What it is, is a parasite that is a little confused. It's trying to go from a snail to a bird, and it bumps into your leg instead."

The parasite is not meant to live in humans and it dies right away. But it's the body's reaction to the intruder that causes the itching. 

The parasites are typically found in shallow, fresh water and that's why small children get it most often.

"Michigan is a place where you can unfortunately see that, and it was even first described in the medical ledger in the 1920s in Michigan," Deibel said.

To avoid beach fun from becoming beach disaster, make sure to rinse off thoroughly after leaving the water.

Also, the deeper in water you go, the less likely you will catch it. 

Since children play primarily in the shallow water, periodically call them in and towel off all exposed skin.

There is unfortunately no treatment for swimmer's itch, but Deibel said the worst that could happen from catching it is just a little scratching. 

"It's kind of miserable. There's not a cure for it per se. It's symptom treatment only. Benadryl will help, but you can do Epsom baths, oatmeal baths to help the itching. But you're looking at being a little uncomfortable for the week," Deibel said.

Doctors said swimmer's itch is like poison ivy. If you catch it once, it will get worse and worse if you catch it again.

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