Hawaii’s tropical shorelines and rainforests are home to a few region-specific skin rashes. Because tourists and locals are likely to participate in outdoor activities, including hiking and swimming, these rashes are commonly contracted. Care must be taken while enjoying Hawaiian rainforests to avoid exposure to these rashes, and proper treatment should be administered in a timely fashion. If you contract an unidentified rash, seek medical attention. Rashes accompanied by fever or vomiting may be a sign of a serious, even life-threatening condition. A doctor's diagnosis is more reliable than your own.
Types of Rashes
There are many types of skin rashes, including but not limited to dermatitis, which is contracted like an allergy; rashes caused by parasites; rashes caused by skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis; bacterial infections; and viral diseases like measles, shingles or scarlet fever. These diseases can be found almost anywhere, but there are a few that are more likely to be contracted in Hawaii’s tropical rainforests. The most notable of these are stinging seaweed disease, swimmer’s itch, and contact dermatitis.
Stinging Seaweed Disease
Stinging seaweed disease is a rash caused by lyngbya, a type of tiny seaweed found along the Hawaiian shore. Lyngbya produces toxins that produce a red, itchy rash with blisters when it comes in contact with skin. Stinging seaweed disease may also cause nose and throat irritation, swelling in the eye area, headache or fatigue. The algae tend to get under a swimmer’s suit while swimming in the islands' ocean or rivers. The rash usually appears within minutes or hours of exposure to the seaweed, and symptoms last between four hours and 12 days.
Prevention and Treatment of Stinging Seaweed Disease
The only way to truly prevent contracting stinging seaweed disease is to avoid the water. Swimming, surfing, or diving in the ocean can result in contact with lyngbya. If you get in the water, avoid areas where people have reportedly contracted the disease. Also, shower with soap after swimming in the ocean. If you do contract the rash, treat it as you would a sunburn. Clean the area gently with soap to remove any algae. Cool compresses or ice reduce swelling. Aloe vera gel can reduce itching.
Swimmer’s itch is caused by parasitic worms or blood flukes, also called shistosomes. When the shistosomes penetrate the skin, they cause an itchy rash. The symptoms begin as mild itching within a few hours of shistosome penetration, and they typically escalate to severe itching with a bumpy rash in the next five days to two weeks.
Prevention and Treatment of Swimmer's Itch
Blood flukes are known to live in rivers, ponds, and beaches throughout the Hawaiian islands. They tend to thrive where the water is still. To avoid contracting swimmer’s itch, do not swim in areas where shistosomes live. If you do swim, use a towel to briskly dry off any skin that was exposed to the water. Applying rubbing alcohol to the skin after swimming will also help prevent the shistosomes from adhering to the skin. Swimmer’s itch is best treated with over the counter itch-relief creams or aloe vera. Symptoms typically go away on their own within a couple of weeks.
Plant-related Contact Dermatitis
Contact dermatitis occurs when the skin is exposed to a substance or chemical that causes an allergic reaction, often generating a red, itchy rash. Hawaiian rainforests are not known for their poisonous plant life, but individual sensitivity to tropical plants is common.
Prevention and Treatment for Contact Dermatitis
To prevent contact dermatitis, wear protective clothing while walking through the rainforest. Long pants, close-toed shoes, and long-sleeve shirts can prevent your skin from coming into contact with most plant life. Also, avoid touching any unknown plants. Plant-related contact dermatitis is best treated with hydro-cortisone or other steroid creams. Over the counter creams containing tacrolimus and pimecrolimus can also effectively reduce symptoms. For severe cases of contact dermatitis, always see a doctor.