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Allergy to salt water: even tears can cause a reaction


The likelihood of developing an allergy to salt sea water itself today remains a rather controversial issue.

Although, for example, the Indian world swimming champion Was Choudhury states that she was diagnosed with this type of allergy back in 1989 (at that time she was 19 years old). Despite this, in 2004 she became the first woman to cross the Seven Seas, crossing the Palko Strait from Talaymanar in Sri Lanka to Tamil Nadu in India.

Some studies indicate that the salt and other minerals in the water may affect the ability of seawater to trigger hives in certain patients. It is known that different seas have different mineral composition, therefore, if a skin reaction occurs in one sea, it may be absent in the other.  

At the same time, most of the sources where the question of the possibility of an allergy to sea water is raised are inclined to believe that it is most often a type of allergic reaction such as aquagenic or cold urticaria. That is, when the reactions are provoked by water itself or by low temperatures.    


With aquagenic urticaria, a skin reaction in the form of a blistering rash appears after contact with any water. This is a rather rare occurrence (now, no more than a hundred such cases are known). But those who suffer from this condition sometimes not only cannot take a bath, but also a long shower. There are cases when a person can swim without consequences for only 10 seconds a week. Sometimes drinking water, juices, tea or coffee, some vegetables and fruits can also become a problem. Even tears can trigger a reaction. 

Redness, as a rule, disappears on its own within an hour after the cessation of exposure to the irritant.

But in rare cases, aquagenic urticaria can lead to a severe and life-threatening allergic reaction such as anaphylaxis.


It is believed that aquagenic urticaria, like cold urticaria, is more susceptible to young women. However, children also often suffer from cold allergies: the reason is increased sensitivity and thinness of the skin. 

People with cold allergies cannot swim in cool, unheated pools and must dress well to protect exposed skin during the cold season. Moreover, even the included air conditioner can also be a problem for them.

The presence of an allergy to cold can be indicated not only by a rash, but also by swelling of the extremities, runny nose, wheezing, loss of consciousness, etc. Occasionally, anaphylactic shock may occur.

For cold-induced hives, patients usually have a threshold temperature below which they will develop hives. 

Eruption of sea swimwear

Algae blooms and some marine life can also react to seawater.

For example, in the United States and the Caribbean, a phenomenon called “swimsuit eruption” is common This itchy rash is caused by the larval forms of jellyfish. When caught under a swimsuit, these larvae can release toxins that lead to redness in this area. 

Most often, children who swim in shallow water are exposed to such a reaction.


Unlike the “swimsuit eruption”, another type of dermatitis called cercarial dermatitis mainly affects uncovered skin. This disease occurs more often in fresh water, although it can develop in sea water.  

Cercarial dermatitis is also called swimmer’s itch. This is a type of skin rash caused by allergic reactions to the larvae of schistosomes, a parasitic flatworm.

Adult schistosomes infect birds and small animals (ducks, seagulls, swans, muskrats and raccoons) and live in their blood. But the eggs of these parasites are found in the feces of infected animals. Therefore, they easily fall into the water, where they turn into parasite larvae.

These larvae then infect a specific species of snail that lives along the coastline. And the next stage of larvae, cercariae, which develop in the snail, already infect a person. This is why cercarial dermatitis develops after swimming in shallow water.

Although humans are not a suitable host for these larvae, cercariae can invade the top layer of the skin (epidermis) and then die because they cannot enter the bloodstream. But this is enough to cause dermatitis.

Common symptoms of cercarial dermatitis include:

· Itchy skin,      

· Red pimples      

· Small blisters.      

In most cases, this rash does not require medical attention and will go away on its own within a few weeks.

If the rash itches too much, oral antihistamines or corticosteroid creams may help. In addition, applying cool compresses to the affected area, taking a baking soda bath, or applying a baking soda paste to the rash can also help relieve itching. 

But frequent swimming in polluted water can exacerbate the allergic reaction and even lead to the appearance of purulent discharge on the affected skin. In this case, you can no longer do without a visit to the doctor.


Another problem that water can cause is bikini folliculitis. It is a bacterial infection that is caused by the bacteria Streptococcus or Staphylococcus aureus . As a rule, prolonged wearing of wet swimwear leads to folliculitis. This is why it is recommended that you shower and take off your wet swimsuit after swimming.        

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