Jock itch may not be what you think it is. For starters, it isn't caused by jock straps. And it doesn't only affect athletes or weekend warriors. In fact, people who are sedentary may be just as likely as very active people to get jock itch.
Here's what causes this common and uncomfortable problem, and what to do when it strikes.
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"The term jock itch is a catch-all for itching, redness, or irritation around your groin," says Thomas Rohrer, MD, a dermatologist in private practice in Chestnut Hill, Mass., and spokesman for the American Academy of Dermatology.
Jock itch can be caused by a variety of factors. Heat, moisture, and the friction of skin rubbing against skin or clothing may combine to cause redness and irritation. Jock itch can also be caused by infectious agents. The most common is a fungal infection called tinea cruris, caused by the same organism that causes athlete's foot. Less commonly, the rash may be caused by a bacterial infection.
Who gets jock itch?
Men are more likely than women to get jock itch, but that's just a function of anatomy. Men have more folds of skin in their groins that can get irritated and may harbor infections. Dermatologists say they've seen an increase in patients with jock itch because of the increasing girth of many Americans.
"When people are overweight or obese, they often have problems with skin rubbing against skin or clothing and getting irritated," says dermatologist Bruce Robinson, MD, a clinical instructor at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. Overweight or obese people also typically have more deep folds of skin where moisture and heat can build up.
How is jock itch treated?
Fortunately, most cases of jock itch can be treated with over-the-counter remedies and a little common sense. "It's fine to treat the symptoms yourself at first to see if they go away," Rohrer says. Here's how:
After showering or bathing, dry the irritated groin area by gently patting it with a towel. Be sure to dry your skin thoroughly.
Apply a 1% hydrocortisone cream and then zinc oxide ointment to prevent chafing and ease irritation.
Wear loose-fitting cotton clothing to avoid chafing.
If your symptoms don't go away within a couple of days, try applying an antifungal lotion, spray, or gel. Prescription-strength antifungal medications have become available over the counter, making it easier to treat jock itch yourself, Robinson says. "But It's important to give antifungal products time to work," he tells WebMD. "Even if the rash and itching go away, continue applying the antifungal for four weeks, to keep the fungus from coming back."
If your symptoms don’t improve within a week or get worse, see your doctor immediately. You may have a bacterial infection that requires an antibiotic treatment.
How can I prevent jock itch flare-ups?
Being careful to dry the skin around your groin after showering or bathing may be enough to prevent jock itch from returning.
If your skin tends to get chafed, wear loose-fitting cotton clothing, especially during activities.
If you have a continuing problem with jock itch, apply zinc oxide ointment to troublesome areas before engaging in activities to help prevent chafing. Afterward, wash and dry the areas carefully.
If you're prone to getting jock itch, ask your doctor about using an antifungal spray, gel, or powder on a regular basis.