Beaches from North Carolina to Texas have experienced an explosion in sea lice outbreaks this year, and the problem is expected to get a lot worse before it gets better. Sea lice are not really lice, rather the minuscule larvae of tiny jellyfish that flourish as ocean water near shores reach their peak annual temperatures. As coastal water temperatures vary from year to year, so does the extent of outbreaks of sea lice, and this year is expected to break all kinds of records.
They Get Everywhere
Since they are so tiny, the larvae can hide between strands of hair, get trapped between bathing suits and skin, and some can also find their way into tiny orifices. Most people don’t realize they’re carrying sea lice until long after they get home and start to feel small pricks or itching sensations as the creatures dry out, become compressed, and release their venom as a last-ditch defense mechanism. Consequently, it’s important that swimmers thoroughly inspect their skin, hair and clothing before leaving the beach in order to identify any stragglers.
Sea lice need to be removed with care in order to prevent them from attacking. It’s not recommended to rinse with fresh water or to dry off with a towel as this could provoke the lice. Instead, go back into the water, in a different spot, and rinse off. It’s also recommended that people don’t wear extra clothing while swimming and to change out of their suits as soon as they get out of the water.
People will respond to bites in different ways. Many won’t feel anything or know that they’ve been bitten until they see a rash develop within a few days following exposure. Others can have allergic reactions or be bitten by more-aggressive larvae that can produce a pricking, burning or stinging sensation. Fortunately, most people won’t develop any adverse reactions to bites other than an itchy, mildly-burning rash that can easily be treated. However, some can develop severe allergies that can lead to life-threatening emergencies, similar to what people who are allergic to bee stings experience.
These include severe swelling, fever, chills, weakness, persistent headaches, nausea, difficulty breathing and seizures. If you start to notice any adverse effects developing, get medical attention immediately. Most reactions can be neutralized in seconds with the right medication, but they can be fatal if left untreated.
If you’ve been stung, you can neutralize the toxins by rinsing with a combination of vinegar and water. This will help to minimize the pain or irritation and enable you to remove any stragglers without worrying about squeezing them. Apply over the counter anti-itch cream, and consider taking an antihistamine to curb the extent of minor allergic reactions. Most rashes should heal on their own within a week. However, infections are possible, particularly if the affected area is damaged from scratching or excessive rubbing, so it’s important to keep the area as clean and dry as possible.
While they can be annoying, sea lice bites are rarely a problem, and people tend to get overly-concerned when they hear about them being present in the water. Don’t let lice keep you from enjoying your time in the water, but make sure that you follow these and other basic guidelines to minimize the chances of exposure nonetheless.