Sea lice, which are actually jellyfish larvae, are affecting beachgoers in Ocean City, Maryland.

Maryland beachgoers are having a lousy time this week, amid an outbreak of sea lice that has plagued the Eastern Shore.

So just what are these pests?


Despite what the name suggests, sea lice are actually small jellyfish larvae. When under pressure, they release inflammatory, stinging cells that cause itching and redness.

Sea lice creep underneath swimmers’ bathing suits and sting beachgoers. They can cause itchy, red rashes, nausea, headaches and lethargy.

The rashes are known as “seabather's eruption” because of the intense itching those afflicted experience.

So, you’ve been stung. Now what?

Rinse with fresh water, a spokesperson for the Ocean City Beach Patrol suggested in a Facebook post. Antihistamines and topical creams can help control itching. But Dr. Joseph W. Burnett, a professor emeritus of dermatology at the University of Maryland, said those are ineffective and recommends treatments such as Noxzema, Sarna or Bengay.

The health department in Florida, which is also dealing with sea lice, recommends swimmers wear sunscreen because it may protect from sea lice stings. Swimmers should also avoid T-shirts and consider wearing two-piece swimsuits to reduce the amount of fabric sea lice can get trapped underneath.

Is this a problem elsewhere?

Sea lice have been a problem in Florida this summer. News reports have also documented issues with sea lice at beaches in North Carolina and Alabama.

Other problems, and … life lessons?

Sea lice cost the salmon industry billions last year when they ate away at much of the world’s farmed supply.

But, it’s not all bad. In a piece for the Atlantic, headlined “What Sea Lice Taught Me About Life,” Deborah Copaken detailed the surprisingly meaningful experience of surfing in sea lice-infested waters.