Sea Lice Rash Symptoms Spreading, Treatment and Prevention

Whether you are experiencing it on the feet or legs or deep in your armpits, you may be wondering, what is sea lice rash? Do not let the name misguide you: The condition involves formation of raised skin lesions after being exposed to jellyfish larvae as opposed to sea lice. Find out how to get rid of the rash using simple home treatments, preventive measures as well as what its spreading means.

Sea Lice

The term sea lice is a misnomer. It gives the impression of a rash erupting as a result of sea lice. This, though, is not the case. Sea lice are fish parasites which have no effects on humans. They therefore have no connection to sea lice rash.

Also referred to as sea bather’s eruption, sea poisoning or pica pica, sea lice rash is caused by the larvae stage of thimble jellyfish. According to ABC News, these creatures have no brains, no blood and are made up of 99 percent water. 

Thimble jelly fish, just like most jelly fish go through three stages in their life cycle. These are larvae, polyps and adult floating medusas. The larval stage is usually released by adult female jellyfish into the waters in their millions. 

The larva appears like a speck of finely ground pepper and its size is approximated to be like that of a pinhead. In the Florida gulf Coast and the Caribbean Sea, they are most common through the months running from April to August but can occur any time. 

According to Safe Sea, popular tourist destinations in Mexico such as Cancun and Cozul are not spared from this menace and tend to experience heavy concentrations of sea lice. Their highest concentrations are usually between the water surface and 10 to 15 feet.

The larvae travel in large groups also referred to as blooms and are most prevalent during the summer and when there is a lot of seaweed floating in the waters.

Sea Lice Rash

The larvae have stinging cells known as nematocysts just like their adult jellyfish counterparts. Due to their small size, they only affect a small area. 

The stinging cell of the larvae consists of a capsule with a sensory hair and a lid containing nematocyst designed to subdue prey by stinging them. Where the sensory hair brushes against a perceived enemy such as another animal, the nematocyst is triggered to fire from the capsule. All this happens in quick succession.

Once this happens, a sea lice rash will appear within six to twenty four hours of exposure.
Microscopic in nature and transparent in water, these jelly fish become invisible making them hard to detect under water. It is only after the sea lice rash manifests that you may learn of their presence. Beach monitors have, however, learnt to raise purple flags to signify the presence of marine pests. The only down side to this is that their presence is usually brought to their attention once swimmers complain. You could be the unlucky person raising the flag.

Jellyfish larva mostly affect areas under your swimsuit and on crevices such as on the armpit, breasts, groin and other areas where they might feel trapped and thus necessitate defense through stings.

Sea Lice Rash Symptoms

what does sea lice rash look like? The most common symptoms of a sea lice rash is intensively itchy red lesions that may look like blisters forming in elevated parts of the skin. The lesions are painful and may come with a burning sensation.

Although they can appear anywhere, the sea lice rash is usually concentrated in areas that were covered by swimwear. In most cases, the symptoms of sea lice rash or stings will not appear until after six to twenty four hours after exposure. 

In cases where the person exposed to the sea lice has severe reactions, additional symptoms will include:
  • Fever
  • Headaches
  • Chills
  • Nausea, heaving and vomiting
  • Pink eye
  • Fatigue
  • Urethra inflammation.
Severity is most common in children and where extreme allergic reactions are observed, hospitalization may be recommended.

Although any one may suffer a reaction from sea lice stings, the symptoms exhibited differ from one person to another. According to CNN Health, of worth to note is that individuals with an allergic reaction history, those with a compromised immune system as well as people who have developed a sea lice rash previously are more prone to experiencing the symptoms.

Sea Lice Rash Spreading

Can sea lice rash spread? The answer is yes. Sea lice rash can keep spreading to areas that were not initially affected. This is more so where the affected person does not change from the clothes they were wearing. It is also possible to spread the rash by scratching while the jelly fish larva are still on the skin as this triggers them to sting. The good news though is that the sea lice rash is not contagious and cannot be spread from one person to another.

Sea Lice Rash Treatment - How to Get Rid of Sea Lice Bites

Sea lice rash may not subject you to any health risks but the associated symptoms can cause untold misery before they subside. Left alone, the rash will clear up on its own between two and ten days. Discussed below are various options on how to get rid of sea lice bites. Using these sea lice rash treatments and home remedies will relief itch, swelling and pain as well as accelerate the healing process.

1.    Remove the Swimwear

This is the first step immediately you suspect exposure. Removing your swimwear will prevent further exposure and help get rid of any jelly fish larvae still trapped in it. The swimsuit should not be worn again until it has been machine washed and dried.

2.    Shower

Immediately you realize you have been exposed to the sea lice bites, hit the bathroom and take a shower.  This will help to flush out any jelly fish still on your skin. Do not rinse off with the swimwear still on. Strip it off and use water and soap to shower. Do not wear them before they have been thoroughly cleaned as any larvae still on them could still attack.

3.    Avoid Rubbing or Scratching

Scratching or rubbing the affected part of the skin only acts to aggravate the situation. Even when the urge to scratch is excessive, try and use anti-itch products to help you relieve the symptoms. Restrain yourself from scratching by all means.

4.    Apply Calamine Lotion

Calamine lotion has been used to treat itch for a long time. It is known to relief sunburns, insect bites, allergic reactions among other skin issues. It contains soothing elements and helps to get rid of itchy sea lice rash. The product is readily available in a drugstore near you. Apply it twice daily until the rash clears up.

5.    Use Hydrocortisone Cream

Topical use of hydrocortisone creams, gels or ointments is recommended for use in treating localized inflammatory reactions. It is known to be effective in relieving the effects of insect bites, dermatitis, poison ivy, chiggers rash among others. It can, therefore, be used to effectively treat sea lice stings.
One percent hydrocortisone creams are available over the counter. Use it twice every day until the rash clears up or as may be directed by the manufacturer.

Home Remedies to Get Rid of Sea Lice Rash

6.    Vinegar

Applying vinegar on the rash can help relieve associated symptoms. It is a natural astringent and acts as a natural antiseptic. It will therefore not only aid in getting rid of sea lice rash fast but also protect the skin against secondary infections.
  • Mix apple cider vinegar with an equal amount of water and using a cotton ball, apply the resulting solution on the rash. Leave it on to air dry without rinsing.
  • Alternatively, you can soak in a vinegar bath. This is most appropriate where large parts of the skin have been affected.

7.    Oatmeal for Sea Lice Rash

Oatmeal has been used for centuries. Its popularity in skin care can be attributed to its soothing ability especially where itchy skin is concerned. You can use it in a bath or apply it as a paste on the affected area.

8.    Ice Pack and Cold Compresses

Ice helps in numbing the skin. It thus helps to temporarily rid the skin off itch and pain.
In a clean face towel, wrap some ice cubes or from peas and hold it on the rash. Use as frequently as may be necessary. You can as well use a wet but not dripping wash cloth to part on the rash for the same effect.
  • In a mixing bowl, combine equal parts of water and oatmeal. This may be adjusted to achieve a consistent paste. Heat this up for a while to soften it up. Gently apply the paste on the sea lice rash and wait for it to dry before rinsing it off.
  • The same can be added to bath water in a tub and the affected person allowed to soak in it for a while to relief sea lice bites symptoms. Alternatively, use colloidal oatmeal products to bath.

9.    Sea Lice Rash Relief Products

There are plenty of anti-jelly fish relief products available in the market. These include creams and gels for topical use.
In addition, you may use non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to ease the discomfort caused by the rash. Aspirin and ibrufen are perfect choices.

Sea Lice Prevention

Like they say, prevention is better than cure. The amount of discomfort that the pesky jelly fish larva cause is best prevented. The one sure way to avoid being stung is by not going to sea especially where warning flags can be seen. If you have to, apply the following preventive measure to reduce the chances of enduring a sea lice rash.

Swim Naked

The jelly fish larva only fire off their stinging cells when they feel threatened. The compression they experienced once they are trapped beneath clothes is enough reason for them to sting. To avoid tapping them, enjoy your swim naked.

Don Appropriate Swim Wear

If swimming naked is not an option, careful selecting appropriate wear can help to avoid sea lice rash. Go for a tight fitting wet suit and avoid loose fitting clothes such as t-shirts.

Apply Sea Insects Repellant

To protect yourself against sea insects, use repellant. This can be general use products or those specifically developed to keep jellyfish larvae away. Safe Sea Jellyfish Protection Lotion is a popular product that prevents bites by various stingers in addition to jellyfish.


Applying Vaseline before getting into the water creates a protective layer on the skin. It also makes the skin water proof and keeps the sea lice stings away.

With the above information, I hope you can enjoy your summer time at the beach without having to worry about suffering sea lice rash and what to do if you get exposed to the stingers. Remember to see your doctor if the rash does not seem to be getting better, if you suspect infection and where severe reaction is experienced.

Frequently Asked Questions about Sea Lice Rash

How do you get rid of sea lice?

To get rid of sea lice after a day in the ocean, wash your body off immediately as well as the bathing suit you were in. you may add some alcohol, vinegar or ammonia to the final rinse. After this, allow the solution to dry on the clothes and on your body without a final rinse. To manage the bites, rash and itch, apply a sea lice gel. Alternatively, jump into a chlorinated swimming pool immediately you leave the beach. This will curb a sea lice rash eruption.

How long does it take for sea lice bites to go away?

The itching that comes from sea lice bites is awful and uncomfortable. Normally, the itch will go away sooner but it takes a while for the rash resulting from the bites to clear up. This could take between two days and two weeks depending on severity. If the bites last longer than this, it could be indicative of an infection. See a doctor about it.

Is seal lice harmful to humans? Or what are health risks of sea lice bites on my skin?

Other than the terrible itch that comes with the bites, sea lice bites are not harmful to humans. They however, come with the risk of allergic reactions. Some people will experience allergies from their bites. If this is severe, the person with suffer the health risks associated with allergic reactions. The symptoms for these will include nausea, vomiting, chills, fever, and headaches. If you experience these, please see a doctor immediately.

Is it Contagious?

Although there is a likelihood of the sea lice rash spreading within a person, the eruption is not contagious and cannot be passed from one person to another.



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