Sea Lice Stings And How To Avoid Them

Sea lice sting bite tummy sydney

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?!


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.

So ‘sea lice bites’ is actually a complete misnomer, and in fact these rashes used to be known as seabather’s eruption.

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

 sea lice stings bites on tummy

Can you feel ‘sea lice’ 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.


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.

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

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.

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


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.

You’ll Love These Posts

How To Treat Bluebottle Stings 

Leeches – And What To Do About These Little Suckers


So who’s up for a nude swim in Sydney?

Oh come on, join in the fun!




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Posted on: March 7, 2013


  • Reply March 7, 2013


    I hate sea lice. They seem to love me 🙁

    • Reply March 7, 2013


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

      • Reply March 8, 2016


        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.

        • Reply March 13, 2016

          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!

    • Reply April 23, 2016

      Matthias Hoffmann

      If anyone is interested: I got stung whilst snorkeling in Thailand near the Similian Islands.
      The itching is quite bad but you can eradicate it by applying heat. It must be hot enough to hurt but not hot enough to burn. The heat can be applied using a spoon and a lighter.
      The itching will stop but it will not heal faster and you might have to apply heat the following days although one treatment max last a day or half a day.

      My bites are now three days old, still itchy but smaller.

      • Reply April 24, 2016

        Seana Smith

        Hi Matthias, are you sure these were sea lice bites rather than other jellyfish. I follow my pharmacist advice and get some anti-itch cream and that really helps for me.

  • Reply March 7, 2013

    Mairi Stones

    I wish! It’s too blinking cold to even put your toe in here so I think I might brave the sea lice for a dip in the Ocean…….maybe. It looks sore.

    We saw baby jellyfish being born and you could see them, here’s link to the blog post.

    There’s no way I’d have got in with them though so maybe best not to be able to see them. X

    • Reply March 7, 2013


      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.

  • Reply March 7, 2013

    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

    • Reply March 7, 2013


      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??!!

  • Reply March 8, 2013


    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.

  • Reply March 8, 2013

    Desire Empire

    You are very brave showing your tummy. Lucky it’s such a good one.

    As for your sofa question on my blog yes I do have a great tip. Recollections in Pymble and Artarmon are fabulous for style and value…….you can’t go past them. Quality good too, but I think scotch guarding is a must with kids/pets.
    Here’s their store locator link

  • Reply March 8, 2013


    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!

    • Reply March 8, 2013


      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.

  • Reply March 8, 2013


    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?

    • Reply March 8, 2013


      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.

  • Reply March 8, 2013


    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).

    • Reply March 8, 2013


      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!

  • Reply March 9, 2013


    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

    • Reply March 10, 2013


      Totally ouch, totally. Best not to think about what lurks beneath.

  • Reply March 9, 2013


    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 !

    • Reply March 10, 2013


      Aha! I’ve never heard of ‘Soothe’, blogging can be so blooming handy can’t it!?? Do you get it at the chemist??

      By the way, the tummy is more or less flat, but my thighs are totally wobbly and with amazing cellulite, I should be in a museum as a demonstration I’m telling you. But who cares really, whatever.

  • Reply April 16, 2013


    bottom line is… swim in sydney harbour and chances are you will certainly feel the wrath of the mighty microscopic stingers, with or without a cossie on. Once you have these burning bites you will find it very difficult to treat. Having tried it all it seems only surf beaches have a better reputation as non affected swimming areas.

    • Reply April 16, 2013


      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.

  • Reply December 16, 2013


    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 🙁

    • Reply December 16, 2013

      Seana Smith

      Oh dear!! Yes, they can be painful, thank you for reminding me about calamine lotion, I used to be covered in it regularly as a kid, must find some.

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