Allergic Reactions While at the Beach

Sun, Water, Smoke, Insects, and Sunscreen

While time spent at the shore is a joy for most people, others may experience allergic reactions while at the beach. Despite the ocean breezes keeping the pollen further inland, other causes of allergies may still be present at the beach.

A family having fun on the beach
Uwe Krejci / Getty Images

Sunscreen Allergies

The growing concern over skin damage and skin cancer has led most people to use sunscreen before spending a day at the beach. This increased use of sunscreens has lead to the development of allergic reactions to the chemicals found in sunscreens.

Most of these allergic reactions are contact dermatitis, a poison oak-like rash that occurs on the skin within hours of sunscreen application. This reaction can occur anywhere the substance is applied onto the body, although it tends to be more common in the areas of the body with the most exposure to the sun.

Allergy to Sunlight

Many people complain of various skin symptoms with prolonged exposure to sunlight, such as itching, hives, or burning and stinging of the skin. Some people have visible rashes while others have no rash.

Certain people with underlying medical conditions (such as lupus or porphyria) are more sensitive to sunlight. Others are using various medications (such as certain high blood pressure medications) that cause a reaction on the skin when exposed to the sun.

Allergic Rashes From Swimming

The act of swimming can also lead to allergic reactions, and the cause of this reaction depends on whether the swimming occurred in a freshwater lake or the ocean.

Swimmer's itch occurs when people swim in water contaminated with parasites. Generally, swimmer's itch occurs in freshwater, where aquatic birds and snails are likely to live. These animals serve as carriers for the parasite. When this parasite enters the human skin, it causes an irritating allergic rash as it dies.

Seabather's eruption is a different type of allergic rash that occurs after swimming in the ocean and being exposed to jellyfish larvae. These larvae get trapped between a person's skin and bathing suit, resulting in an itchy skin rash on areas covered by clothing.

These symptoms usually start while the person is still swimming, but may also occur hours later. Rubbing the skin often makes the symptoms worse, since the larvae release a toxin into the skin as a result of pressure or friction.

Rarely, a person may also experience systemic symptoms from the toxin, such as fevers, nausea, vomiting, headache, and diarrhea.

Barbecue Allergy

Everyone loves a barbecue or a bonfire after a long day at the beach. Certain types of wood (such as mesquite, oak, cedar, and hickory) might be burned to add flavor to the barbecued meat or to stoke the fire.

However, if wood is burned that is covered in poison ivy or poison sumac or similar, it may result in an allergic reaction in those who are nearby. If you have a pollen allergy, you need not worry about burning fire with wood from a pollen-containing tree.

Allergies to Insect Stings

What would a day at the beach be without the annoying yellow jackets or honeybees swarming around the picnic blanket? Unfortunately, people get insect stings commonly at the beach, and allergic reactions to these stings can be extremely dangerous.

Therefore, people with a history of allergic reactions to insect stings should take special precautions to prevent being stung, and be prepared to treat an allergic reaction should they get stung.

If a person has had a systemic reaction to a sting, they should be evaluated for life-threatening allergy by an allergist. If they are found to have a life-threatening allergy, they would be prescribed an epinephrine auto-injector to carry at all times and to use in the event of anaphylaxis (a life-threatening reaction).

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