Seabather’s eruption is an extremely itchy skin rash caused by a hypersensitivity reaction to the larval-stage of various marine organisms. These marine organisms have nematocysts, stinging cells, which sting the swimmer and cause the pruritic dermatitis. It occurs in the bathing suit covered areas of the skin, rather than the exposed area, and befalls in the sea, thus its name seabather’s. It can occur at any time of the year but predominantly occurs during the warmer temperatures of summer affecting swimmers as soon as they get out of the water.
Seabather’s eruption should not be confused with swimmer’s itch. Swimmer’s itch pertains to a skin reaction when parasites at their larval stage enter the epidermal layer of the skin causing an allergic reaction and usually occurs on the exposed skin areas. Seabather’s eruption is also called sea lice, sea poisoning, sea critters, ocean itch and pika-pika.
Causes of Seabather’s Eruption
Seabather’s eruption is caused by a hypersensitivity reaction to the larval form of particular marine organism. When the larvae become stuck underneath the bathing suits,the nematocysts will inject toxin into the skin causing skin rash.
- Thimble jellyfish (Linuche unguiculata)
- Small tropical jellyfish
- Barely perceptible larvae
- Sea anemones (Edwardsiella lineata)
- Very small larva
- Other larval cnidarians
Symptoms of Seabather’s Eruption
Seabather’s eruption usually occurs as soon as the swimmer gets out of the sea. There is a noticeable skin discomfort. The symptoms of seabather’s eruption are as follows:
- Skin rash, which may develop within minutes to hours after swimmer
- Raised bumps or blisters
- Red and extremely itchy
- Tingling sensation in the covered area of the bathing suit
- Nausea and vomiting
- General feeling of illness
- Pink eye
- Urethritis (inflammation of urethra)
- In children, fever and abdominal pain may sometimes develop.
First Aid Management for Seabather’s Eruption
First aid can be applied to seabather’s eruption to provide comfort to the
person involved. It can be managed at home with symptoms disappearing within 10 to 14 days.
- Do not rub the skin; rubbing will only cause more nematocysts to sting.
- Remove the swimsuit as soon as possible. One should not shower with their bathing suit on. The bathing suit should be washed in vinegar or rubbing alcohol before wearing again.
- Shower with fresh water and soap. Thoroughly scrub the skin.
- Apply diluted vinegar or rubbing alcohol on the skin rash to help neutralize the toxin left on the skin.
- If there is pain, ice packs or cool compress may be applied on the skin.
- To help ease itching, antihistamines may be taken orally. Hydrocortisone cream is also advised to be applied topically. In children younger than two, do not apply in the groin area without consulting a physician.
- Wash the rashes daily with water and soap.
Be aware of proper treatment and management of skin reactions due a variety of sources, including seabather’s eruption, by joining in first aid courses.