Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Men's Health

Font Size

Minor Athlete Infections and Other Annoyances: How to Prevent and Treat Them

From herpes to jock itch to jogger’s nipples, a tour of an athlete’s chamber of little horrors
By Chris Colin
WebMD Feature

As a child, I never would have guessed I'd one day be paid to type the phrase "jock itch."

Actually, I'm sort of surprised now as an adult to find that jock itch, and its southerly cousin athlete's foot, still exist. There's something sort of quaint about these and other minor locker room infections — they seem to belong in the moldering realm of short shorts and tube socks that marked our fathers' Saturday mornings at the Y. Surely today's athletes, with their x-treme cross trainers and x-treme energy bars, needn't worry about such musty old athlete infections. Anyway, that's what I thought.

Recommended Related to Men

Save Your Prostate: Get a PSA Test

Like his favorite car, a guy's body needs regular checkups one that includes a screening for prostate cancer, otherwise known as a PSA test. The risk of prostate cancer goes up every year after age 50, that's why men need to take steps in preventing it, or making sure it's detected early. The prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test is the best way to detect prostate cancer in its early stages. It's typically done along with a rectal exam, because most malignant prostate tumors start nearest...

Read the Save Your Prostate: Get a PSA Test article > >

I was wrong. For athletes who manage not to concuss themselves on the goalpost or collapse in a heap on the football field, a host of thoroughly non-fatal minor infections wait in the wings. Some can be a genuine pain in the, well, jock. Others are better filed under irritation. But all bring little leaguers and professionals alike to the doctor each season.

As Joanna Badger, MD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Stanford, tells it, the world's wrestlers are first in line.

Herpes gladiatorum: Wrestlers, that would be you

Herpes gladiatorum, as the name suggests, is "not at all uncommon with wrestlers," Badger says. "There are sometimes epidemic outbreaks throughout a whole team. My friend's a wrestler, and I'm always giving him something for herpes."

The infection is spread through close skin-to-skin contact, and results in a herpes simplex rash generally found on the shoulders, arms, neck, and face. (It happens enough that the National Collegiate Athletic Association has looked into ways of addressing its impact on wrestling.) Antiviral medications can speed up its subsidence, but generally, there aren't many preventive options besides watching for rashes and scrubbing those mats.

Impetigo: You again, wrestlers

Having dodged herpes, the wrestler often must contend with impetigo. More common in children, this skin infection is also spread via the close contact that wrestling rather depends on. Keeping the mats clean is, again, the best prevention. Failing that, the red sores that appear eventually start to ooze and will generally disappear on their own in a couple of weeks. They can also be treated with antibiotics.

Ringworm, athlete’s foot, and jock itch: Equal opportunity infections

The now somewhat sickly sounding wrestling community will be relieved to hear that yet another common minor infection, tinea, dabbles freely in many sports. (Between October 2004 and April 2005, a French judo team saw 49 of its 131 members infected.) The tinea infection — also known as ringworm — is fungal, not viral or bacterial, and includes athlete's foot and jock itch. Damp, warm, and dark areas of skin are most receptive to tinea, as are teens and adult men. The infection announces itself with an itchy and sometimes scaly rash. Keeping clean and dry is the best prevention; clothing made from natural fibers also can help. Antifungal creams and lotions are the typical treatment.

What is it about sports that invites all this dermatological distress? Of course benchwarmers possess no special immunity — but athletes are made particularly susceptible to minor infections like these by a perfect storm of sweat, friction, skin contact, and heat. These factors contribute to non-infection problems, too.

Today on WebMD

Life Cycle of a Penis
Slideshow
Preacher Curl
Slideshow
 
testosterone molecule
Article
Xray of foot highlighting gout
Slideshow
 
Food Men 10 Foods Boost Male Health
Slideshow
Thoughtful man sitting on bed
Quiz
 
Man taking blood pressure
Slideshow
doctor holding syringe
Slideshow
 
Condom Quiz
Quiz
thumbnail_angry_couple_in_bed
Slideshow
 
man running
Quiz
woman holding hand to ear
Slideshow