You have finally got yourself to the beach for your summer vacation, but you begin to experience allergies. This is an allergy sufferer’s nightmare! Get ready for the most in-depth list of potential triggers to help you solve the mystery of why your allergies are worse at the beach.
First up, just a quick overview of the most common beach allergy symptoms.
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Most Common Beach Allergy Symptoms
You may be suffering from allergies at the beach if you have one or more of these symptoms.
Itchy eyes and/or watery eyes
Post-Nasal Drip (can lead to cough)
Itchy ears and/or throat
Sinus pain or pressure
Oral Allergy Syndrome (OAS)
These are not necessarily all the symptoms of allergies, but they are more common than others. Unfortunately, these symptoms can be part of non-allergy-related conditions like a cold.
Now that we have covered the most common symptoms of allergy, especially at the beach, let dive deep into the common beach allergy triggers.
Common Beach Allergy Triggers
Allergy triggers at the beach sometimes show up in a non-traditional manner due to the unique climate, as well as activities you might only do at the ocean.
Let’s go over these triggers and how they are disguising themselves at the beach.
A sun allergy is described as any irrational immune system response to sunlight. This conditional affects up to 15% of the U.S. Population. Check out my “Complete Guide to Sun Allergies” post if you suspect you are experiencing a sun allergy.
Avoiding sun allergies
Avoiding the sun is one way to avoid a sun allergy, but not cool when you are at the beach. Alternatively, applying high-quality sunscreen to help control sun allergy symptoms may help.
Allergic to Your Sunscreen
You may experience an allergy or reaction to the sunscreen you are using. According to the Australian Cancer Council, there are two types of contact dermatitis: irritant and allergic.
Irritant contact dermatitis from sunscreen (Irritant)
A reaction after applying sunscreen, causing irritation where the sunscreen was applied.
Allergic contact dermatitis from sunscreen (Allergic)
Allergic contact dermatitis is a less common type of dermatitis caused by an allergy to one of the ingredients in your sunscreen.
Photocontact Dermatitis from Sunscreen (Allergic)
This is a rare condition where the combination of your skin, the sunscreen, and the ultra-violet (UV) rays from the sun causes an allergic reaction where the sunscreen is applied.
Avoiding Sunscreen Allergy
Sunscreen benefits outweigh the risks of not wearing sunscreen (in my opinion). Many major brand sunscreens have loads of chemicals that can cause an allergic reaction and irritate the skin.
Choose a sunscreen that fits your needs, blocks UVA and UVB rays, but also contains less harmful ingredients.
I found this sunscreen on Amazon which has an EWG rating of 1 (that’s good) meaning it’s not full of harmful ingredients!
This Badger – SPF 30 Clear Zinc Sunscreen Cream, is unscented and safe for the whole family, check it out.
You can pick up this sunscreen on Amazon which might be worth a try if you have a sunscreen allergy.
Ocean Water Allergy (Swimmer’s Itch, Seabather’s Eruption, Seaweed Dermatitis)
Ocean water allergy is a generalized term to describe waterborne allergic and inflammatory reactions. These reactions are typically caused by one of the following: Swimmer’s Itch (Swimmer’s Rash), Seabather’s Eruption, or Toxic Seaweed Dermatitis.
The CDC explains that Swimmer’s Itch (cercarial dermatitis) is an allergic reaction on the skin caused by microscopic parasites in the water.
The parasites in their larval state, burrow under the skin which may spark an allergic reaction in the form of a rash.
Dermatology Advisor lets us know that Seabather’s Eruption is caused by cnidarian larvae (jellyfish, sea anemones, hydra, and corals) becoming trapped on the skin because of clothing (i.e. bathing suits, dive gear) or skin folds (i.e. underarms, toes, midsection).
These stuck larvae end up injecting a toxin into the skin which causes an itchy rash.
Common locations in the U.S. where seabather’s eruption is found include Florida and the Long Island area.
The blue-green alga exposure irritates the skin that can progress from itching and burning and evolve further to blistering on the skin.
Avoiding Ocean Water Allergies
These ocean water allergies are caused by organisms living in the water, so we need to use tactics that help us avoid or limit our exposures to these creatures.
Here are a few tips to avoid allergies related to seawater.
How to Avoid Ocean Water Allergies:
Avoid the Ocean (not Ideal, but effective)
Shower or rinse immediately after leaving the water
Avoid slow-moving waters like tide pools or stagnant areas
Swim a little deeper (safely), the cooler waters help
Avoid the water where there are large gatherings of birds
Use waterproof sunscreen to create a skin barrier
Change out of wet clothes and bathing suits
It is extremely rare to be allergic to the sand, but it is possible. A more likely cause of a sand allergy is contact dermatitis from an element in the sand. Here are some examples.
Contact Dermatitis Triggers in Sand
Mold growth (consistently wet sand)
Avoiding Sand Allergies
Avoiding sand-related allergies can be difficult! Of course, avoiding the sand is the most effective way to avoid contact dermatitis from the sand. But that can be near impossible when you are literally at the beach.
How to Avoid Sand Allergies:
Shower Immediately after leaving the beach
Visit beaches that have minimal pollution
Limit playtime in the sand
Insect Stings and Bites
Insect stings and bites are common triggers for allergy symptoms when visiting the beach. Here are the top stinging and biting insects you may encounter.
Sandflies (sand flies)are small biting flies that are found worldwide. The female sand flies consume a blood meal to develop their eggs. Sometimes that blood meal comes from us humans who are trying to enjoy the beach.
Only female sand flies bite, and it’s a painful bite. The bites can cause allergy-like skin reactions, inflammation of the skin, and even transmit certain diseases.
The term “sand flea” is a blanket term for small amphipods and crustaceans that you would find at the beach that hops like a flea. They are not fleas.
Sand fleas are also known by the names of beach fleas, sand hoppers, sand mites, or beach hoppers.
According to the CDC, the species to look out for is the chigoe flea (Tunga penetrans) which is also called a jigger, nigua, chica, pico, pique, or suthi.
The chigoe flea is known for clawing into the skin (typically human feet) and latching on with their mouths. This burrowing causes inflammation and lesions on your feet.
Bloodworms like to live in the sediment of the sea, and low tide pools. Of course, the sea and low tide pools might be where you are hanging out at the beach. Bloodworms tend to stick to themselves and don’t usually bother anyone.
The Washington State Department of Ecology posted an article that states “They (bloodworms) don’t usually harm humans intentionally, but if you did happen to put your finger near the worm’s mouth, you could end up with a minor bee-sting-like bite.”
For most individuals, this shouldn’t be a problem. But for others it can cause an allergic reaction, that may become severe, similar to a bee sting.
Mosquitoes might not be your first thought as an insect that bites you at the beach. But it definitely can happen.
Usually, the higher winds help mitigate your mosquito exposure, but as you move inland to your camping area, or out of high wind areas, you are at a greater risk for mosquito bites. Like the sand flies, only female mosquitoes bite.
If you usually suffer from an allergic reaction to mosquito bites, the mosquitoes at the beach will probably give you the same allergic response.
Avoiding Insect Bites and Stings at the Beach
There are a few things you can do to mitigate being bit at the beach. Avoiding bites and stings while at the ocean makes for a better experience for everyone.
Here are some tips to avoid insects:
Use Bug Spray
Limit outdoor activities during dawn and dusk
Avoid going to the beach during cloud cover & cooler temperatures
Sit on a chair or blanket, not directly on the sand
Wear long clothing
Seasonal allergies can be a major reason for your allergies to be worse at the beach, but the pesky allergen might be harder to find in this environment. Here are some unique areas allergens may be hiding that you might not have been aware of while at the beach.
A dander allergy can be worse at the beach, not necessarily the ocean or sand, but where you are staying.
If you are staying the night in a hotel or vacation rental, there might still be pet dander from the previous tenants.
Additionally, if you rented or borrowed a tent, sleeping bags, etc. and pets were hanging out near that equipment, this too could be the source of a pet dander allergy flare-up at the beach.
Avoiding Pet Dander at the Beach
Stay at a location that doesn’t allow pets
Bring your personal pillow
Avoid borrowing equipment from friends with pets
Steer clear of carpeted rooms
Refrain from using hard to clean items like sleeping bags and couches
Mold exists in areas of high moisture, the beach and surrounding areas are typically humid, which mold loves. At the beach, you may be exposed inside of buildings (stores, hotels, houses, cabins, campers) as well as outside in consistently damps areas like sand.
Avoiding Mold Allergies At The Beach
Visually inspect your hotel or camper for signs of mold
Run a dehumidifier
Limit exposure to sand in moist and stagnant areas
Use a HEPA Air Purifier
Grass at the beach is crucial for controlling beach erosion and keeping sand dunes healthy. Unfortunately, these grasses can make our allergies worse at the beach. In combination with the grasses at the beach, high winds can spread the grass pollen as well.
Avoiding Grass Allergies at the Beach
Avoid walking in the beach grasses
Limit outdoor time when pollen counts are high
Wear a mask
Shower when you are done going outside
Dust mites are little (microscopic) arthropods that love skin cells, and thrive in high humidity environments…like the beach… You might be running into dust mites in your camper, hotel/motel, rental property.
These dust mites like to hide out in areas where we hang out (and lose skin cells) like the couch, bed, rugs, carpet, and stuffed animals.
Avoiding Dust Mite Allergies at the Beach
When staying at a hotel or rental property, ensure they have a mattress protector on
Run a dehumidifier
Wash bedding often
Clean & Dust
Use a HEPA Air Filter
Tree allergies at the beach? Yes, you can still experience tree allergies at the beach, even if there are no trees nearby.
Studies have shown that tree pollen can travel miles depending on the wind direction, humidity, and temperature. The tree pollen you are allergic to may have blown towards you at the beach.
Your Tree pollen allergy might be flaring because of your campfire. Yes, the wood you are burning could be the type of tree you are allergic to, the heat and smoke are making that fire an allergy nightmare.
Barbecue & campfire smoke
Related to tree pollen allergies, the wood or coals you are burning might be the reason that your symptoms are worse at the beach.
BBQ coals are not necessarily made of coal that you put in your fireplace but are usually comprised of wood products like sawdust and wood chips.
Campfire wood is made of trees and it could be the trees you are allergic to, just like the coals for your grill.
Depending on your tree allergy, your barbecue or campfire can be the cause of making your allergies worse at the beach.
Avoiding Tree Allergies at the Beach
Avoid Charcoal Grills/smoke
Shower when you go inside for the night
Wear a mask
Run an air filter indoors
Shellfish & fish Food Allergies
A fish or shellfish allergy can flare up when consuming the allergen. Coastal restaurants serve up fish and shellfish, and if there is cross-contamination going on in the kitchen you may spark your food allergy.
Some individuals have such a strong allergy to shellfish that being near the food when it’s cooked (smoke and steam) can begin to experience symptoms.
Additionally, there are some documented cases of contact dermatitis from handling shellfish while at the beach (without consuming).
Avoiding Shellfish/Fish Allergies at The Beach
Avoid playing with sea creatures you find
Limit sand exposure
Shower immediately after your trip to the beach
Be cautious with seafood restaurants (Cross-contamination/airborne exposure)
There are many different factors to consider when trying to figure out why your allergies are worse at the beach to include the sun, sand, ocean, which are the whole reason you have gone to the beach.
Hopefully, this breakdown has helped identify the cause of your allergy symptoms and how to avoid triggers that can make symptoms worse.
Was your question not answered? Please check out these Beach FAQs.
Beach Allergies Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Can the beach make allergies better?
Yes and No. For some individuals, the beach provides an allergy-free zone as the ocean breeze keeps pollen inland.
For others (or if the winds shift towards the ocean) the beach can make allergies worse. The typical cause of allergies at the beach is seasonal allergens.
Does living near the ocean help with allergies?
Living near the ocean can help with allergies, it just depends on what you are allergic to. Most days, the beach can provide allergy relief from seasonal allergies due to high winds coming from the seas.
These winds keep inland pollens from blowing toward the ocean. However, if winds shift, your allergies may flare-up.
Why do I get a stuffy nose at the beach?
A stuffy nose at the beach can be caused by the following:
Illness like a cold or flu
Irritation from smoke or allergens
Chemical exposure (fumes)
Can the beach trigger allergies?
Yes. The beach can trigger allergies like sun, sand, and ocean allergies, which are different from the typical seasonal allergies.
What allergens are at the beach?
The allergens that are typically found at a beach are Seasonal (pollens, dust, grasses, weeds, trees), food, sun, ocean, and sand allergies.
Can you get allergies from the ocean?
Ocean water has flora and fauna inside that can cause allergic reactions. These plants and animals cause conditions like Swimmer’s Itch (Swimmer’s Rash), Seabather’s Eruption, and Toxic Seaweed Dermatitis.
Is there pollen at the beach causing seasonal allergies?
Yes. The beach has a diverse population of different grasses, weeds, and trees, all of which produce pollen. Some examples of these plants are beach grass, lyme grass, cattails, pondweeds, Sabal palmetto, and Crape myrtles.
What climate is best for allergies?
The best climate for allergies would be the Polar climate. The AAFA has listed 10 “Better Than Average” places to live with seasonal allergies for those who don’t want to move to Antarctica.
Cities with the least allergy concerns:
Salt Lake City, UT
San Jose, CA
Generally speaking, when you look at these locations on a map the best areas to live with seasonal allergies are near the west coast and mountainous ranges.
Why do I have sinus allergies at the beach?
Sinus allergies and irritation at the beach can be caused by dust mites, pollen, dander, smoke, seawater in the nose, chlorine in the nose, mold, or even illness.
Why do I get a skin rash after going to the beach?
After going to the beach, a skin rash can be caused by: Sun, sunscreen, irritation from sand, ocean water exposure, pollen/mold airborne, and in the sand.
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