Seabather's Eruption - Topic Overview
What is seabather's eruption?
is a rash that occurs when a swimmer is stung by marine life larvae. The
condition has many names, including sea lice, pika-pika, sea poisoning, sea
critters, and ocean itch.
What causes seabather's eruption?
Two types of
marine life that generally cause this rash are:
- Thimble jellyfish (Linuche unguiculata). These are found seasonally in the water off the Florida
coast and across the Caribbean. The jellyfish breeds in the Caribbean
throughout the summer, peaking in May. The larvae are barely visible, appearing
like a speck of finely ground pepper.
- Sea anemone (Edwardsiella lineata). These are found in the water off the
coast of Long Island, New York. The larvae are small (2 mm to 3 mm).
Other types of marine life may also cause this rash.
What are the symptoms of seabather's eruption?
Shortly after being stung, a swimmer may complain of skin discomfort. The
rash develops in a few minutes to 12 hours after swimming. The rash consists of
raised, hard or soft bumps, or blisters of different shapes and sizes that
appear very red and may be extremely itchy. The larvae can become trapped in
the fabric of a swimsuit, under swim caps and fins, and along the cuff edges of
wet suits and T-shirts. The rash often appears in areas of the body that were
Occasionally, other symptoms may occur with the rash,
including nausea, vomiting, headache, fatigue, a general feeling of illness
(malaise), pinkeye (conjunctivitis), and urethritis, the inflammation of the
tube that carries urine from the bladder to outside of the body (urethra).
Fever may occur, particularly in children.
Can seabather's eruption be treated at home?
treatment can help ease your discomfort and prevent other problems.
- Do not rub your skin. If larvae are on your
skin, rubbing will cause them to sting.
- Remove your swimsuit as
soon as possible. Since larvae can become trapped in the fabric of your suit,
it is important to remove a contaminated suit to prevent more stings. If
available, rinse your suit in household vinegar or rubbing alcohol. Wash your
suit in hot, soapy water and dry it in a dryer, if possible, before you wear it
- Shower with fresh water. Apply soap and vigorously scrub
your skin. Do not shower with a contaminated suit on. If larvae are trapped in
the fabric of a suit, a freshwater shower will cause the larvae to
- Take an
antihistamine, such as diphenhydramine or
chlorpheniramine, or apply hydrocortisone cream (1%) to help control itching.
Note: Do not use the cream on children younger than age
2 unless your doctor tells you to. Do not use in the rectal or vaginal area in
children younger than age 12 unless your doctor tells you to. Also, don't give
antihistamines to your child unless you've checked with the doctor first.
- Use an ice pack to help
- Keep the rash clean. Wash it every day with soap and
Does seabather's eruption require medical treatment?
The rash will usually go away without medical treatment in 10 to 14 days.
Watch for symptoms of infection while the rash is present. These
- Increased pain, swelling, redness, or warmth
around the affected area.
- Red streaks extending from the affected
- Drainage of pus from the area.
- Swollen lymph
nodes in the neck, armpit, or groin.
Fever or chills with no other
If these symptoms are present, seek medical