Ich is one of the most common diseases that your aquarium fish can encounter. Many different approaches exist for combating this illness, but based on more than a decade of experience running 100 to 200 tanks in a fish store and importing wild-caught species, this is our go-to method for treating 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.
A fish with ich tends to look like it has tiny crystals on its body, like someone sprinkled salt on it. We tend to notice ich on the fins first since there’s less slime coat in those areas and it’s easier for the parasite to target. Other symptoms may include loss of appetite, rapid breathing, fish rubbing their bodies against surfaces, lethargy, and hiding behavior.
If your fish has ich that comes from an external parasite, you will see five spots today and then maybe 35 spots tomorrow. However, some fish get “stress ich” or stress spots, which evenly covers the entire body (not just the fins). If you see five spots today and five spots tomorrow with no increase, this may be stress ich instead and will not necessarily respond to the same treatment regimen mentioned below.
Clown loaches are prone to ich, especially if the water temperature is not high enough for their liking.
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. Also, do not share any equipment such as siphons and 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.
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’s very effective and safe to use with any fish (even scaleless ones), shrimp, snails, and live plants.
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. Stop treating with Ich-X, gradually remove it using your normal water change schedule, and reevaluate the diagnosis.
Also, if Ich-X is not available in your country, salt is another good method for treating ich. We often use it with cichlids (both African and South American) and goldfish, but catfish and loach species can be more sensitive to salinity changes. For more details on using salt to treat ich, read our blog post on aquarium salt.
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 is one of the easiest diseases to treat, and fish generally will not die immediately from it (unless they already have a compromised immune system). 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.