Jock itch

Medical quality assurance by Dr. Albrecht Nonnenmacher, MD at March 15, 2016
StartDiseasesJock itch

Jock itch, more scientifically known as tinea cruris, is a common fungal infection. Whether working as a professional athlete or sitting in an office chair all day long, problems with jock itch can develop without warning. This infection can lead to uncomfortable, painful, and embarrassing itching. Luckily, this condition is fairly common and easily curable once the symptoms are recognized and the right type of treatment is determined.

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Definition & Facts

Jock itch is sometimes also referred to as a type of ringworm infection. This problem is appropriately named as it is most commonly found in those who sweat a lot, such as male athletes, though it's also common with those who are overweight.

While jock itch is more commonly seen with men, it affects both men and women of all ages and develops regardless of a person's overall level of health. The same fungus responsible for athlete's foot can also cause jock itch, though infections of the foot are called tinea pedis.

Symptoms & Complaints

Jock itch develops as an itchy pink or red rash often with a darker center. It most commonly forms around the genitalia or the inner thigh, but can also form on the buttocks. The rash begins as a red spot in an area with little air movement and high moisture and spreads out in a circle or half moon shape.

The rash can be severely itchy, and is often accompanied by burning and chafing with the skin growing scaly and flaky. Raised small blisters may also surround the edge of the rash. In some cases, the rash may also be accompanied by an unpleasant musty or yeast-like smell.

Causes

Certain factors can put someone at a much higher risk for developing jock itch. Like most fungi, those that cause this infection thrive in moist, warm places. This is why the infection often starts near the folds of the thighs and spreads out towards the genitals or anus. Tight underwear or wet clothing provides an even better environment for the infection to thrive by cutting off air circulation and trapping moisture. This means that unwashed gym clothing is a common place for the fungi to grow and transfer to the skin.

Unfortunately, jock itch is a highly contagious infection. This allows the fungi to transfer easily to the skin from shared items like towels, or can be spread by hand contact. Since the fungi are often related to athlete's foot, the infection may also spread from foot to groin by touching infected feet. Other factors that may contribute to developing an infection include being overweight, sweating heavily, and having a weakened immune system due to other conditions or illnesses.

Diagnosis & Tests

Due to the unique appearance of a jock itch infection, a doctor will most likely be able to diagnose the condition based on just a visual examination. However, if they are unsure, they may perform a skin scraping to obtain a sample. This culture procedure is non-invasive and simply involves using a blunt object to remove a sample of infected skin cells. In many cases, this can be as fast as scraping a glass slide directly across the affected tissue.

The skin scrapings are then combined with potassium hydroxide to kill off any other cells and leave the fungal cells easily observable. The procedure allows a laboratory professional to look at the fungi under a microscope and provide the information necessary for a doctor to give a firm diagnosis.

Treatment & Therapy

While jock itch can be annoying and uncomfortable, it is not usually dangerous and is easily treatable. The type of treatment chosen for a case of tinea cruris varies depending on the severity of the infection. For mild cases, simple over-the-counter treatments may be all that's needed.

The most common of these treatments use antifungal active ingredients like clotrimazole, terbinafine, and miconazole sold under common commercial names like Monistat®, Lotrimin®, or Lamisil®. These remedies also come in a variety of forms, including sprays, creams, lotions or powders.

Read the directions carefully before using any over-the-counter product. It's essential to not only follow the directions for application, but also for use. The product should continue to be applied up to 10 days after the rash has cleared to ensure the fungi is gone and to prevent reinfection. If jock itch does not clear up within two weeks, it's important to seek out medical attention as stronger antifungal ointments or pills may be necessary.

If blisters form during an infection, it may be helpful to use a product like a Burow's solution to remedy the inflamed skin and dry out the area. Once the skin is dry, the antifungal treatment can be applied.

Prevention & Prophylaxis

Jock itch infections can be prevented by following a few key preventative steps. One of the most important prevention methods is to practice good hygiene.

Regularly wash high risk areas around the groin and thigh, especially after working out or taking part in other activities that cause the body to sweat. Not only is it important to wash the skin, but the skin must be thoroughly dried to make the area less hospitable to fungal growth.

If there are problems with excessive moisture in the groin area, a powder can be applied to keep it dry. Shower shoes should be worn to prevent infections on the feet when using communal showers. Treat any athlete's foot infections before they can spread to the groin. Hands should be washed thoroughly anytime they make contact with infected areas of the skin.

Clothing should be worn that fits properly, especially underwear and pants. Clothing should be tight enough to provide support, but not so tight that air flow is restricted. Breathable fabric choices like cotton can also help. It's also important to regularly change into clean clothing on a daily basis, especially socks and underwear. Not sharing personal items can also help reduce infection rates, especially towels. Even when not shared with others, it's important to always use clean, dry towels.