Stinging Seaweed Disease
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About This Disease
Stinging seaweed disease is a skin irritation caused by direct exposure to a poisonous type of algae named Lyngbya majuscula. The fine, hairlike, dark-brown seaweed, commonly known as lyngbya, is found in tropical and subtropical marine and estuarine environment worldwide, including Hawaiian shoreline. Lyngbya produces toxins and being exposed to toxins causes symptoms.
Signs and Symptoms
Symptoms include itching/irritation of skin rash and/or blister formation. Other symptoms include swollen eyes, irritation of the nose and throat, skin sores, oral and intestinal irritation, headache, fatigue, fever. The rash frequently appears in the genital and anal areas. In men with genital (sex organ) involvement, swelling of the scrotum is common.
Symptoms may begin several minutes to several hours after exposure to the algae, and typically last 4 to 48 hours. In more serious cases, skin sores may appear, which can last up to 12 days.
You can get stinging seaweed disease by direct exposure to the seaweed while swimming or wading in areas where the seaweed grows.
Lyngbya can get under the swimsuit next to the skin and produce a rash, usually, but not always, in areas covered by the swimsuit.
There have been reported that windblown Lyngbya cause symptoms on face when people walked on the beach during strong winds.
The diagnosis will be based on observation of characteristic clinical signs and lesions after recent contact with Lynbgya.
The rash can be treated as a sunburn using wet towels and soothing creams may be used to alleviate symptoms. If the reaction is severe, steroid treatment may be required.
If wound get infected, antibiotic treatment may be needed.
Risk in Hawaii
Lyngbya can be found in certain Hawaiian shoreline waters but only at certain times of the year.
The only sure way to avoid stinging seaweed disease is to avoid swimming in the ocean. However, if you choose to swim in the ocean, avoid waters where stinging seaweed has been reported.
Shower or bathe with lots of soap and water promptly after swimming. Thoroughly wash swimsuits, towels, and any associated swim gear to get rid of any attached algae.
Information for Clinicians
Lyngbya dermatitis is an irritant contact dermatitis. Lyngbya is a Blue green alga lives in depth down to 100ft. The alga often clump up in to hairy mat-like masses, often called “mermaid hair” or “fireweed”, along the ocean floor and can be blown to areas with swimmers by strong current and/or wind. Histopathological examination of lesions may show dermatitis with infiltrates of lymphocytes and eosinophils, and some neutrophils. By direct contact with Lyngbya, dermatitis, ocular and respiratory tract irritation has been observed. When lyngbya was ingested, oral and intestinal irritation, edema, and cellular damages may be developed. Differential diagnosis includes Swimmer’s itch, and several types of cnidarian dermatitis. Type of water and location of the symptoms on the skin may be able to differentiate from other dermatitis.
Last Reviewed: July 2019