Red Tide

In the last couple of years I’ve noticed that if I surf during a red tide I’ll have a stuffy nose by evening.  It’s gotten progressively worse.  Last weekend I surfed in a slightly red tide and was totally congested that evening.  I took a Benedryl.  The next day I was sick.  I’ve been kind of sick with flu like symptoms all week-  green snot, weak and achy muscles, and a slight head ache.  


Does anyone else experience this?  Is there any remedy? Is it common to develop allergies later in life?


There’s now a heavy red tide running at my local so it looks like no surfing for me until it passes.  I guess I’ll finish the board I’m working on… though I’d rather be surfing…

There were a crew of guys in high school who all surfed in the red tide here on the NC coast, back in the late 80’s.  Of the five guys, one my brother in law, who was diagnosed with rare neurologocal cancer, which was fatal, and another with a rare lymphoma, he has survived and is in remission.  I won’t go in the water if there is a red tide warning.  I am not sure if there is a correlation between the red tides and cancer, but I am no longer willing to find out personally.


Red tide is definitely an irritant to the respiratory system. You don't even have to go in the water (or even on the beach) to be affected. During some of the episodes here, enough of it will get airborne to have everyone on the barrier island suffering.

Where are you at? I float around between Law St. and Tourmaline for my morning sessions. I had the same thing all week. Felt funky on Friday afternoon, then Flu like all weekend into Monday. (Fever, achy, weak, snotty) Got back in on Tuesday but I’m still congested like crazy. I noticed a bloom going on but it was more green/brown than red.

I have experienced pretty much what you described. I surfed for many years before the red tides started to bother me. Over time I became increasingly sensitive to whatever it is that is in the water. Sorry to say, but avoidance is the only thing that works for me. I've tried antihistamines, nose plugs (don't try that one), post-surf sinus flushing, but surfing a spot without the red tide is the only sure thing. One really bad season, the red tide lasted for weeks and was spread out for miles. I couldn't hold out any longer and drove an hour and a half to surf some crappy beach break with clean water...

    Howzit llilibel, Can't say that the red tie and your flu like conditions are related because I had those same flu like symptoms a week ago for about 4 days and people said it was a bug going around. I don't think or at least I have never seen red tide in Hawaii. Aloha,Kokua

I've been surfing in the red tide in San Diego the past week...and i too feel like crap, stuffed up nose, cough...almost flu like symptoms.  But then again it's spring time too, and other blooming things are making my eyes puff shut.

I’m no doctor, but I do read a lot of research…

A couple years ago, some research was published that showed not a direct link between brevetoxins and cancer, but a possible inderect link. It seems that the toxin reacts at the molecular level with DNA in lung tissue, binding to the molecule’s base where coding is conducted. That part of the molecule functions, in part, to make sure that when the cell divides and reproduces, the correct code is replicated. Because the toxin binds to that codeing end of the DNA molecule, it does not prevent improper replecation like it should. Cancer is a form of “bad replication.”

So the bottom line is, it’s still not clear whether there is a link between brevetoxin exposure and cancer. But it is believed that exposure to brevetoxin may increase your likelyhood of cancer when exposed to OTHER toxins… like tobacco smoke or other pollutants.

I remember about a year or two ago, stumbling on some website put up by some surfers in SoCal that you could go on and report where and when you surfed (or any other water activity - swimming, kayaking, etc) and the illness/condition that you developed as a result, the idea being that if people consitently reported the same issues in the same places, warning signs could be posted or even legal action could be taken if the contamination was due to industrial pollutants and runoff.

I tried to find it again just now on google, but no luck.  Does anyone else remember this site or know if something like this exists?  I think I found it based on a link on one of the surf report websites or read about it in a magazine maybe.

Yeah. I don’t know if they still do that. I remember reporting the first times my nose got stuffed. I think it has to be common knowledge for the database to be useful and not enough people know about that site.

The guy who started it, Rob Rhyne, used to post here as “Rhino.” Then I remember he got hassled at Rocky Point by Jeff Crawford and most folks here at Sways sided with the ornery Old Guy (Crawford), after which he (Rhino) stopped posting here.

I first experienced red tide at Law St. in the late '50’s. Several of us had flu-like symptoms afterwards. The official word was “red tide won’t hurt you if you don’t eat the fish”. So, we all went out the next time and I had the same symptoms again. I was only 15, but I learned my lesson and have avoided algae blooms since. 

That’s too bad he got hassled out of promoting his project.  I’d bet there were some other factors involved as well.  I checked it out a bit and it looks like only a handful of people ever even used it.  An interesting idea though especially if it were linked up to high-traffic websites (like facebook or surfline) to publicize and promote usage.  Still not something that’s I’d take the time to do everytime I got a stuffy nose.

On the subject of red tides: If the water looks and/or smells funny, and the waves are average or less, I try to find something else to do.