Swimmer’s Itch : Swimming Injuries

Swimmer’s itch is a colloquial umbrella term which refers to the range of skin complaints that can be caused by chlorinated swimming pools.

What skin complaints can you get from Swimming?

The most common swimming related skin complaint is chemical dermatitis, which is a result of the chlorine in the water. Chlorine is an irritant, so if you are frequently exposed to it you can develop an itchy rash. You are much more likely to suffer from chemical dermatitis if you have an allergy to chlorine.

A second skin complaint is caused by water-borne bacteria such as pseudomonas aeruginosa. Bacterial skin complaints are very rare in competitive swimmers, since the chlorine effectively kills most bacteria off. However, if the water temperature is too high the bacteria can grow. Pseudomonas aeruginosa will manifest itself in an all over body rash which can look like chicken pox and may include blisters.

Molluscum contagiosum is a virus, and more commonly a sexually transmitted infection. However, it can be water-borne, but swimmers are more likely to contract it from sharing towels. The infection is characterised by small, flesh coloured blisters.

How can you prevent Swimmer’s Itch?

The most effective way to prevent bacterial and viral infections is to keep the water at a good temperature in order for the chlorine to work properly. However, if chlorine levels are too high, the risk of chemical dermatitis increases. Dermatitis is difficult to prevent in swimmers. If you have an allergy to chlorine, then medication may help, but unfortunately there is little else you can do. Swimmers should avoid sharing towels or having close body contact with other swimmers to minimise the spread of viruses.

How do you treat Swimmer’s Itch?

Bacterial infections can be treated with antibiotics. There are many treatments for viral infections, which should be discussed with your doctor, but which include cauterisation and astringents. Dermatitis, however, is difficult to treat. It is recommended that you avoid the cause of the condition, which in this case is chlorine. However, for competitive swimmers this is not possible. The alternative is to use creams and lotions to lessen the inflammation and soreness. If your dermatitis is due to an allergy you may be given antihistamines.

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