Sea Lice Bites: How To Treat and How To Avoid

If you are wondering:  ‘What do sea lice bites look like?’ then the photo above shows you!

Sea lice bites picture
Yes, this is my tummy. No, I know no shame. Yes, I am sucking in my breath. A lot.

Good morning, have you been for a swim in the ocean lately?

Encountered any stinging sea creatures?

I’m starting a wee series on Sydney’s Most Annoying And Itchy Animals. Where better to start than those pesky sea lice?!  Araargghh. there are too many sea lice! Sydney has millions and they all seem keen to get close to me!

What are sea lice?

Well, what we call sea lice, the wee beasties that left so many itchy rash marks, are not lice at all.

Real sea lice infest salmon and are absolutely disgusting. If you want to make yourself vomit just do a google image search on ‘sea lice salmon’ and grab a bucket.

The mini stingers we get around Sydney are actually larvae of jellyfish. I’d love to show you a photo, but they are colourless and miniscule so I’ve never even seen one far less taken a photo.

These tiny terrors have the same stinging cells as the adults.  The scientific name for these cells is nematocysts, my mate Rosie taught me that word years ago.

Sea lice tend to be more prevalent in the warm summer months and might be present in large numbers. If you start to feel mini stings as you swim, that could be sea lice.

So what are sea lice bites?

‘Sea lice bites’ is actually a complete misnomer, what we really have are lots of little stings, causing a rash.  In the past, these rashes used to be known as seabather’s eruption. Australia has plenty of sea lice and plenty of eruptions.

The rash is called pruritic dermatitis if you want to get all technical.

The rash can be very itchy and annoying. It usually lasts two to four days but some unfortunate souls might be itching for up to two weeks,

sea lice bites australia on tummy


Can you feel ‘sea lice’ as they sting?

In my experience, you feel a few little stings when you swim into a patch of these little stinging larvae.  But after that, no stinging as you swim.

Then you leave the water, and about six hours later wonder why you have this itchy rash in the places your cossie covered.

The thing is that the little jellyfish larvae have got caught in your cossie and have fired off their stinging nematocyst cells.

Sea Lice Bites Treatment

How to treat sea lice bites?  Don’t itch them.

Easier said than done!

You can try washing the area with a bit of vinegar, or visit a pharmacist and ask advice, there are anti-itch lotions and potions which may help.  We have used 1% hydrocortison from the chemist at times. Ibuprofen and panadol can also help.

Stingose can also help a lot, you can buy Stingose as a spray, see here.  You can also buy Stingose as a cream, check here.

sea lice bites australia treatment

Ice packs can really help too.

If the skin gets a red and sore, zoom straight to see a GP as the rash may have got infected. Yuck.

How To Avoid Sea Lice Bites

After the rash seen in these pictures, I have wised up and if I ever feel a few mini stings in the water I take my cossie off as soon as I get out of the ocean and shower down, washing all the wee stinging cells off my skin.

Be careful not to put a wet cossie back on after being bitten. The nematocysts can live for a week in the wet swimming costume so you may be more sea lice bites if you put the wet cossie back on.

Top tip: Take the cossie off before you shower if at all possible.

Swim Nude!

Swimming nude will alleviate this sea lice problem.  No cossies to get caught in = few or no ‘sea lice bites.’

Swim nude in winter, as ‘sea lice’ usually are worst in summer.  Haha!!

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Leeches – And What To Do About These Little Suckers

I hope this helps if you have some sea lice bites, Australia has many annoying creatures and these are not the worst of our biters (hello crocs and sharks) but they can be very annoying, especially for children.

Happy swimming.

Check out all the best swimming pools in Sydney on this post, no sea lice bites in our pools!

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    1. says: Seana

      Oh dear, that’s bad! Funny how they are only around sometimes, think I’ve been let off pretty lightly this summer.

      1. says: Michael

        Funny, I swim in the ocean off Manly most mornings and never have a problem. My wife is ‘bitten’ regularly.
        This week I swam in the harbour and am bitten all over, not just under my cossie.
        Nasty little blighters.

        1. says: Seana Smith

          Hello Michael, they do seem to be irregular in their appearance. I had masses of stings after a dip i Dee Why pool a few weeks ago, but nothing since. So itchy!

      2. says: Rhonda

        Unfortunately it’s not just under swimmers. I’m covered head to toe. Waves smashing them against your body cause them to burst on skin. So uncomfortable right now!

    1. says: Seana

      Fancy a swim in the North Sea when we’re all at Morag’s. That’d wake us up! I can’t remember those jellyfish from your blog, will re-visit. Thanks Mairi.

  1. says: Hotly Spiced

    You have nothing to worry about. If that’s your tummy after a set of twins, there’s no hope for the rest of us (except I have an excuse because one of my three weighed more than my friend’s twins when he was born!) That looks really painful. I’ve been attacked before but not to the level I see here xx

    1. says: Seana

      Ah, I’ve got that classically British pear shape, all flabby thighs and bottom and not much of a bosom. But the old girl is hanging together and I’ve done my evolutionary duty so who cares??!!

  2. Great story, I never realised they weren’t sea lice!!

    I have another important tip. Don’t just hang your cosi up to dry if you have been stung. Putting a wetsuit, bikini or shirt on which has had the stingers in them recently (even a week later) leads to another bout of the itchies. The clothing should be soaked in vinegar and water and then washed.

  3. says: Kylez

    When I went to Fiji for my honeymoon my husband and I were snorkeling and in between putting the snorkel in and out of my mouth to look up and say something to Dave I got a mouthful of sea lice which stung me on the insides of my mouth and lips. That was the end of snorkeling as my lips swelled so badly and painfully that I couldn’t talk, let alone hold a snorkel in my mouth, and the pressure from the swelling against my nose made it hard to breath! It was the worst experience, and my first ever experience snorkeling! Because of where the stings were all I could do was take a Nurofen and sit with ice on my lips all day and wait for the swelling and pain to go away. It was all fine by the next day though and it didn’t deter me from snorkeling again, but man was I paranoid after that! Not an experience I wish to repeat!

    1. says: Seana

      That’s a TERRIBLE story Kylie, what a disaster. Thanks for sharing your tale of woe, I bet you can still feel the pain. Ouch!! Oh dear, little buggers. So glad it passed and you got back in the water… mouth firmly closed I am sure.

  4. says: Amanda

    Great tips Seana. I’m always amazed how differently people react to bites – some get off scott-free while the rest of us get welts!
    I wonder what the science behind that is?

    1. says: Seana

      I think must be to do with the cells that swell and some of have more active immune systems. Same with mossie bites, amazing differences even amongst my kids.

  5. says: Kyla

    Totally not a fan of all the gross, stinging, itching, hungry sea creatures but I would pay (good money too) to watch a bunch of bloggers go nude swimming in Sydney in the depths of winter (while I watched from the shore with a coffee of course).

    1. says: Seana

      Hello! But you’d BE one of the nude bloggers, wouldn’t you??!!! Come one, you would, I’m sure we could persuade you!! There was a nude swim recently but I couldn’t go cos I was away doing another swim and weekend at Jervis Bay… shame!

  6. says: Emily

    It kinda creeps me out to think of the things that are in the ocean when I swim, but I just try not to think about it! OUCH though – Em x

  7. says: Grace

    If I had a flat tummy like yours, I’d be in for that nude swim! Alas, I’m still working on that one 🙂
    I hate, hate, hate sea lice! There’s a great cream we use called “Soothe”. It is exactly what its title entails !

  8. says: Seana

    Hello there Peter, we’ve had different experiences as I’ve swum in the harbour a lot and not been stung by these wee guys, and got the stings shown here at an ocean beach. Pesky things they are, but has been a rare event for us luckily.

  9. says: matthewB

    As much as I am all for swimming nude haha, my entire arms and back were absolutely engulfed with these stings over the weekend. where as the area in my shorts.. thankfully! was not.
    Very nasty rash that has lasted a few days and nothing much is helping besides painting myself with stingoes and calamine lotion 🙁

  10. says: Stephanie

    I have been bitten twice in a space of two weeks and its driving me mad! Washing all the linen daily and have used lyclear….yes usually used for scabies but can also be used for sea lice. I have refrained from going swimming the second time in an attempt to clear them first and then apply sunscreen to prevent the buggers from attacking… does anyone have any other strategies? I don’t want to stop swimming as I set myself a challenge to swim to end of July!

    1. says: Seana Smith

      I hadn’t heard anything about sunscreen. You could get a lycra stinger suit that covered you right up. I find just showering and getting dry then dressed straight after a swim does the trick usually. It’s staying in a wet cossie that is the disaster for me. Whereabouts are you swimming?

  11. says: Stephanie

    Hi Seana, I’m swimming at Coogee south in the pool and no one else is getting attacked! Today I applied sunscreen and went in for a swim… lets see how this goes! Will let you know as it might be useful for others.
    Ps i do shower with hot water and soap straight after the swim at the surf lifesaving club…

  12. says: Stephanie

    Well so far so good the sunscreen has worked and I have not been attacked. Of course i will now have to subject myself to the water without sunscreen to see if the little critters are even still in the water now….
    Oh what fun… nothing better to do with my time than subjecting myself to this experiment!!!

  13. says: liz

    Hi – thank you for your advice, though you’re wrong about swimming nude in the winter!

    I got bitten this week (felt a sting in the water and 24 hours later have horrid welts on my arm – could have been worse though!)

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