How to Treat Ich or White Spot Disease on Freshwater Fish
Ich is one of the most common diseases that your aquarium fish can encounter. There are many ways to combat this disease, but this method is the best. It’s based on over a decade of experience in managing 100-200 tanks in a fish shop and importing wild-caught species.
What is Ich?
Also known as ick or white spot disease, the Ichthyophthirius multifiliis protozoan is an external parasite that attaches to your fish’s fins, body, and gills by forming a tiny white capsule (usually less than 1 mm in diameter). After feeding off the fish and growing to maturity, it falls off the fish, encapsulates itself on the ground or other aquarium surface, and rapidly replicates itself. Once the replication is complete, the cyst breaks open and hundreds of new ich protozoa are released into the water, capable of swimming for two to three days until they locate a new host to attack. The earlier you catch and treat the ich, the better your fish’s chances of full recovery.
This microscopic view shows ich in its trophont stage, feeding under the skin of the fish.
Do My Fish Have Ich?
A fish with ich tends to look like it has tiny crystals on its body, like someone sprinkled salt on it. Since there’s less slime coating in these areas, it’s easier to spot the parasites. We notice ich more often on the fins. Other symptoms may include loss of appetite, rapid breathing, fish rubbing their bodies against surfaces, lethargy, and hiding behavior.
Five spots today may be caused by an external parasite. Tomorrow, it could be 35 spots. However, some fish get “stress ich” or stress spots, which evenly covers the entire body (not just the fins). You may see five spots today, and then the same amount tomorrow. It is possible that stress ich has occurred. The treatment will not be the same as the one listed below.
In a rough analogy ich could be described as chickenpox. These are skin conditions caused by an infectious microbe. Stress acne is a condition that is caused by hormones. The treatments for chickenpox versus stress acne are very different, and the same applies to ich versus stress ich. See our article on stress ich for more details.
Clown loaches can get ich if they are not given enough water.
Can Ich Affect Humans?
Thankfully, no. You will not be infected if you touch the aquarium water. However, make sure to thoroughly wash your hands and forearms so that you will not accidentally pass the disease to other aquariums. You should not share equipment, such as siphons or nets, between fish tanks. If you must reuse aquarium tools, you can disinfect them with very hot tap water and chlorine and then allow the items to completely dry before reuse.
What is the Best Ich Treatment for You?
There are numerous techniques for treating ich, from gentle herbal solutions to very invasive ones, but after years of testing, Aquarium Solutions Ich-X is our medication of choice. It can be used with all fish (including scaleless), shrimp, snails and live plants.
1. First, identify the disease and make sure it’s actually ich. Because velvet and stress ich look very similar it is worth waiting 24 hours to confirm diagnosis. 2. Dose Ich-X according to the instructions, which is 5 ml of medication per 10 gallons of aquarium water, and wait 24 hours. (Do not use half-strength dosage for sensitive fish because that concentration will not be strong enough to kill ich. After treating thousands of fish, we have never seen a problem with any species.) 3. Change one-third of the water and dose the aquarium again at the same concentration of 5 ml of Ich-X per 10 gallons of water. Remember to add enough medication to treat the total water volume of the aquarium, not just the volume of the water removed. 4. You can repeat Step 3 every 24-hours until you see no signs of ich. 5. Complete Step 3 for one extra day after you last see ich on your fish, just in case there any cysts hiding in the ground. (The only way medication can kill protozoa is if they’re swimming unprotected. 6. Keep the medication in your water. You can gradually get rid of it by changing your water routine. 7. After treatment, the fish’s body has lots of wounds and tissue damage, making it an ideal environment for bacterial and fungal pathogens, so you may need to treat for secondary infections.
The active ingredient in Ich-X is malachite green chloride, which has a strong blue coloration, so avoid touching the liquid if at all possible. In our experience, we have not noticed any problems with blue staining on aquarium decor or silicone.
If there’s no improvement after 5 days, the disease was mostly likely misdiagnosed, and you are not dealing with ich. Do not continue treating Ich-X. You can gradually reduce it by following your regular water changes and then reevaluate the diagnosis.
Also, if Ich-X is not available in your country, salt is another good method for treating ich. It is often used with goldfish, cichlids (both African- and South American), and cichlids. However, salt can also be used to treat ich in catfish and loach species. For more details on using salt to treat ich, read our blog post on aquarium salt.
Is Ich Always Present in Aquariums?
This is a hotly debated question among fish keepers, but regardless of the answer, the key is to always run your aquariums as if it is there. The disease is opportunistic and commonly appears when fish are weak or stressed, so try to identify why your fish got ich in the first place. Did you introduce new fish to your aquarium without quarantining them first? Was the fish tank poorly maintained, or were there rapid changes in parameters such as pH and temperature? By keeping the water quality high and minimizing sources of stress, you can easily avoid any future outbreaks of ich.
Fortunately, ich can be treated quickly and most fish will survive it, even if they already have compromised immune systems. Always keep a bottle of Ich-X on hand in case of emergencies because you don’t want to be forced to run to the store late at night and use a random product that may end up harming your fish. With the right medication and a bit of patience, your fish should be cleared up in no time from those pesky white spots.