Summertime in SWFL means families flock to the beach to enjoy some sunshine, warm water, and sea lice?!?! Humans aren’t the only ones who enjoy the warmer water temperatures. Sea lice—not to be mistaken for head lice—are in fact jellyfish and sea anemone larvae. They are tiny, almost invisible to the naked eye, and are most commonly found in SWFL in the late spring and summer months. That’s when we see patients seeking help for a mysterious skin condition at our Naples and Marco Island offices!
Sea lice will not sting you if you simply float past them and they brush your skin. Trouble occurs when they get trapped against your skin. When threatened, they sting. This results in a red, itchy rash called “sea bather’s eruption.” The most common site for the rash is over areas covered by your swimsuit or clothing. It is also possible to get in areas of friction, such as in your armpits or between your thighs. If you are utilizing a float or paddling around on a surfboard, you may also become irritated wherever your body comes into contact with these items.
For many folks, there are no symptoms that they’ve been stung until hours later. Others will complain of a prickly or burning sensation right away. The visible rash generally begins within a few hours. The skin will be red and bumpy. Itching can range from mild to quite bothersome. Rarely, flu-like symptoms will accompany the rash. Fortunately, the rash resolves within a few days.
While the only way to prevent sea bather’s eruption is to avoid swimming altogether, there are a few tricks that can minimize the rash and its symptoms. We always recommend wearing UPF clothing while swimming, but if there is a known sea lice bloom in the area, removing excess clothing while swimming will reduce the surface area that can be affected. Instead, lather up with sunscreen before swimming—and reapply once you dry off. Remove your swimsuit and wet clothing as soon as possible. Rinsing off with fresh water is only helpful if you have removed your suit first; otherwise you can make the rash worse.
If you are uncomfortable from the rash, know that cold compresses, hydrocortisone cream, and antihistamines can provide significant relief. Seek medical attention if the rash is severe or if symptoms persist beyond a few days.