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What to do if You Suspect Red Tide is Making You Sick

Most residents along Florida’s Gulf Coast are well aware of the phenomenon known as red tide. Just recently, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reported that the red tide organism — Karenia brevis — was measured at bloom concentrations in southwest Florida. And in early October, it was recorded at background levels in northwest Florida.

Red tide blooms are not an uncommon sight for those of us who reside in Tampa. Such blooms occurred over the course of 14 months in 2017-2018 and were apparent in 17 months in 2005-2006.

Tampa- Red Tide

A severe bloom that occurred in 2012-2013 killed hundreds of manatees and scores of other marine life. Significant blooms also occurred in 2015-2016 and 2016-2017, with smaller blooms in other years. And it’s not a recent phenomenon. Written descriptions of red tide events in the Gulf of Mexico reach back to the era of Spanish exploration in the New World.

According to an article published in the journal Ecotoxicology, the impact of red tide includes “massive fish kills; marine mammal, sea turtle and sea bird mortalities; benthic community die-off; and public health effects from shellfish contamination and inhalation of air-borne toxins.”

Symptoms of red tide exposure

For those of us who regularly use our beautiful coastlines for recreational purposes, it becomes important that we’re knowledgeable about the symptoms of red tide exposure. While swimming  during a Florida red tide might be safe for some people, signs vary according to individual sensitivity and type of exposure. For example, romping in the ocean during a red tide might result in skin irritation and burning eyes.

Those with sensitive skin that is easily irritated are advised to avoid contact with the ocean or waterways when red tide is apparent. And if you do experience irritation, thoroughly wash off with fresh water.

People in coastal areas up to a mile from shore may experience varying degrees of eye, nose, and throat irritation that subside when the person leaves the area or when the red tide moves on.

Certain seafood caught or collected in a red tide should be avoided:

  • Clams and oysters (mollusks) may contain red tide toxins that cause neurotoxic shellfish poisoning.
  • The edible meat of crabs, shrimp, and lobsters can be eaten, but do not eat the tomalley (the green digestive gland).
  • Do not eat any distressed or dead animals under any circumstances.
  • Finally, finfish caught live and healthy can be eaten if filleted and rinsed thoroughly.

Neurotoxic shellfish poisoning may result in the following:

  • Short-term memory loss
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Slurred speech
  • Loss of coordination
  • Brain damage
  • Death

If you experience diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting after eating seafood, seek medical attention immediately.

What to do

If you live near, work near, or visit an area with red tide and experience respiratory symptoms or eye or skin irritation — even if those symptoms subside later — we encourage you to consult a doctor experienced in diagnosing and treating exposure to environmental toxins.

You may require testing and treatment for chronic inflammatory response syndrome (CIRS), a condition often caused by a build-up of toxins in the body that overwhelms the body’s ability to eliminate them. CIRS can cause a wide range of symptoms, including the following:

  • Chronic fatigue
  • Persistent cough
  • Allergies
  • Asthma
  • Skin conditions, such as eczema, psoriasis, or chemical sensitivity
  • Increased sensitivity to airborne chemicals such as perfumes, colognes, and scents from laundry detergents and home cleaning products
  • Muscle cramps and aches
  • Headaches
  • Disorientation
  • Cognitive difficulties affecting memory, thinking, or mental focus

Treatment for red tide exposure is like treatment for exposure to toxic mold. Here at BioDesign Wellness Center, Tampa’s functional medicine practice, we usually start treatment with natural or prescription binders to eliminate the toxins from the body as quickly as possible. Toxins attach to the binders, allowing the body to remove them more easily.

Additional treatments may be required to heal the gut, support the immune system, and address any physical damage caused by toxins.


Disclaimer: The information in this blog post about Red Tide is provided for general informational purposes only and may not reflect current medical thinking or practices. No information contained in this post should be construed as medical advice from the medical staff at BioDesign Wellness Center, Inc., nor is this post intended to be a substitute for medical counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in, or accessible through, this post without seeking the appropriate medical advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a licensed medical professional in the recipient’s state, country or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.