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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
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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.

Folliculitis, friction blisters, and jogger’s nipples

Watch what you wear, Badger says. For starters, folliculitis, an inflammation around the hair follicle, can "come from the continued wearing of wet clothing after exercise. The follicle provides an entry route for bacteria into the skin." Workout garb can also contribute to friction blisters, Badger says, another typical complaint. The feet get it worst, and a properly fitted, activity-appropriate shoe will minimize the irritation. Taking the prize for most memorably named, "jogger's nipples" is a common reaction to chafing — putting on an adhesive bandage will often help.

Onychodystrophy, or toenail abnormality

When they're not worrying about their nipples, runners have their toes to guard.

"Toenail abnormality, or onychodystrophy, can be brought on by the trauma of running," Badger says. "The toe is forced into the toe of the shoe, separating the nail plate from the nail bed. It's often confused with toe fungus."

Because onychodystrophy is the result of repeated minor trauma to the nail, sports doctors recommend trimming toenails regularly and not lacing shoes too tight. In extreme cases, surgery is the only treatment.

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