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Jock itch, also known as tinea cruris in medical terminology, is a relatively harmless skin condition that is characterized by the development of an itchy rash in the groin area.
Jock itch belongs to the category of ringworm infections (tinea), which are typically fungal in nature. The fungus responsible for jock itch is Trichophyton rubrum fungus, and like most fungi, it tends to thrive in warm, moist environments.
The rash associated with jock itch typically occurs in the groin region and can spread to your genitals, buttocks, and inner thighs.
This fungal infection affects people of both sexes, but a higher incidence is reported among males.
The condition derives its name from the fact that it is most commonly observed among male athletes or jocks.
Perhaps it is because sportspeople who engage in rigorous physical exercise regularly sweat profusely, which makes them increasingly vulnerable to such fungal threats.
What Can Cause a Jock Itch?
Jock itch develops when the warm, moist areas of your body are exposed to the fungus.
The folded regions in your skin, buttocks, groin, and upper thighs are the most hospitable conditions for the growth of the associated fungus.
Since these parts of the body tend to be warm and moist, they serve as perfect breeding grounds for the infection-causing fungus.
Signs and Symptoms of Jock Itch
Jock itch is primarily characterized by a defined itchy, scaly rash around the groin, buttocks, skin folds, inner thighs, and at times the region around the anus.
Aside from the itching and pain, other symptoms include:
- A burning sensation
- Skin redness
- Flaking skin
- A reddish or tan brown color in the center of the rash
- Peeling or cracking of the affected skin
- A rash edge that may be bumpy and resemble a blister
Diagnosing Jock Itch
Your doctor will be able to identify a jock itch by taking a close look at the rash and identifying its characteristic appearance.
The doctor will most likely inquire about any recent experience or activity that may have exposed you to the fungus. This line of questioning will help him determine how you may have contracted the infection and how to proceed accordingly.
In some cases where the doctor is unable to pinpoint the exact reason behind the infection, he/she will take a sample of the rash and send it for laboratory analysis.
Standard Treatments for Jock Itch
Jock itch responds well to topical treatments. Your doctor is likely to prescribe the following: (1)
- Antifungal creams and ointments such as terbinafine (Lamisil) and butenafine (Lotrimin) are recommended to be applied topically to the infected skin.
- Oral fungal treatments may be prescribed only in very severe cases. (2)
- If you continue to scratch or pick at the rash, your skin may rupture and become secondarily infected with bacteria.
In such cases, doctors usually prescribe an antibiotic course to treat the subsidiary bacterial infection.
- Jock itch powder sprays may be prescribed to tend to the infection in the groin region, where the skin is folded.
Antifungal creams are the mainstay of jock itch treatment and have to be used for at least 2-4 weeks to bear the desired results.
There are certain medications which may yield faster results but are much more costly than the standard topical options.
Self-Care Tips and Home Treatment
Once you have contracted jock itch, there aren’t any reliable home remedies that can help you relieve the condition. The most you can do is to contain the spread of infection by following proper hygiene.
The following self-care measures are aimed at promoting personal cleanliness, which is essential for preventing jock itch. If nothing else, these tips can help you recover better and faster in case you already have the infection.
- Take a shower regularly, especially after doing any form of activity that results in heavy perspiration.
- Try to keep the groin area clean and dry at all times. After taking a bath, you must air-dry the affected skin or use a separate towel to pat it dry gently.
- Do not apply oily products on the affected skin as they can make you sweat even more.
- To keep yourself from contaminating other people and surfaces, it is imperative that you sanitize or wash your hands after touching the infected skin.This practice also prevents spreading the infection to other parts of your own body.
- You must resist the urge to scratch the rash to prevent further skin damage.
Rubbing the itchy skin will only irritate it further and can also pave the way for a secondary bacterial infection.
- Wash the area with cool water. You may also wrap ice cubes in a plastic bag and place it on the affected region or keep a cold washcloth over it.
- Change your underwear daily. Prefer cotton underwear.
- Wash your clothes regularly – underwear and athleisure in particular.
- Wear clothes that are a bit lose to avoid the accumulation of sweat.
- Choose a soft cotton fabric. Avoid wearing clothes that can cause itching or can rub against your body parts.
- Avoid wearing sweaty clothes or wet swimsuits for long durations.
- Keep your lockers and gym bag clean. Avoid keeping damp and soiled linen in them.
- Make use of a desiccant powder for your crotch region to keep it dry and free from moisture.
- Use antifungal products according to the instructions on the labels. Continue the treatment to complete the medication course.
Is It Contagious?
Jock itch is a mildly contagious form of fungal infection. Even though most cases of jock itch do not pose a serious contamination risk, you must always err at the side of caution, whether you have the infection yourself or know someone who does.
Because the infection is primarily located in the genital region, it can easily be transmitted during sex.
One can also pick up the infection-causing fungus through direct or indirect contact with the affected individual.
How Is Jock Itch Spread?
The fungus responsible for jock itch grows well in the warm damp conditions of steamy public bathrooms and facilities such as locker rooms and showers.
The moisture and steam help the fungus grow, colonize the area, and infect the towels, sweaty clothes, wet floors, and damp walls within the rooms. It is from these regions that you are likely to become infected with the fungus.
The fungal infection mostly spreads through:
- Wearing infected clothes
- Using towels and linen soiled with the fungus
- By touching the infected skin of the affected individual
- By using the contaminated personal items of the affected individual such as towels, undergarments, and swimwear
Infections Often Confused with Jock Itch
Various infections present symptoms similar to those manifested by jock itch. These conditions can be differentiated by analyzing the different causative conditions. The conditions similar to jock itch are: (2)
- Candidal intertrigo: Affects the scrotum and shows satellite red-colored lesions lacking a clear center.
- Erythrasma: A reddish-brown lesion without any demarcated border.
- Inverse psoriasis: Characterized by red-colored lesions with a sharp demarcation from the rest of the skin. It can also manifest in the form of nail pitting.
- Seborrheic dermatitis: Characterized by scaly lesions and red skin spread over the scalp, hairline, chest, nasolabial folds, eyebrows, and postauricular folds.
Risk Factors Associated with Jock Itch
Jock itch has a high prevalence rate in athletes. However, anyone who sweats profusely can be afflicted with this discomforting problem, which can plague anyone across any age and gender.
Be it men, women, boys, or girls; no one is immune to this condition.
As your groin is a confined space that is likely to sweat a lot, it offers the perfect breeding ground for the infection-causing fungus. The people who are at an increased risk of developing jock itch include:
- People who are prone to excessive sweating due to increased physical activity or some other reasons are more susceptible to jock itch.
- People who are overweight or obese tend to perspire a lot. Since they have more folds in their skin which can trap the moisture, they are more likely to get infected.
- People who wear tight-fitting underwear have no room for ventilation around the groin area, which can pave the way for a fungal infection.
- People with a compromised immune system, whether due to an underlying condition or other reasons, will naturally find it harder to ward off the infection.
- People who participate in contact sports such as wrestling are more likely to contract this infection.
- People who do not maintain proper personal hygiene daily will inadvertently invite diseases such as jock itch.
This is particularly applicable to those who do not bathe or change their underwear every day.
- People who continue wearing damp, sweaty or soiled clothing for extended periods are more likely to pick up this fungal infection than those who wear clean, dry clothes at all times.
When to See a Doctor
Following cleanliness practices and using over-the-counter topical creams can help reduce the itch. However, if this does not happen, you must consult a dermatologist.
Fungal infections start responding to medications within a few weeks, while nail infections take around 3 months. If the symptoms do not resolve and exist beyond the stated time, consider getting a medical review.
It is imperative to get yourself treated and be prescribed the optimal treatment for your infection.
Personal hygiene is of paramount importance to keep away jock itch infections.
Along with the aforementioned natural strategies, bear in mind that good hygiene habits will cut down the growth of fungus and prevent the jock itch from spreading to other parts of your body.
Also, it is essential to track your progress. If the fungal infection persists, check in with your board-certified dermatologist to get yourself medically reviewed.
Expert Answers (Q&A)
Answered by Dr. Chris Jalilian, MBBS (Dermatology)
Is jock itch a sign of STD?
Jock itch is a fungal infection of the genitals and/or surrounding skin. It is not generally considered to be sexually transmitted.
While it is contagious, certain characteristics need to be present for someone to “catch” jock itch. More often than not, it occurs due to excessive moisture and heat in the skin folds, which provide the perfect environment for the growth of fungus.
However, other causes of itchy skin around the genital area can be a sign of an STD. Hence, if you are unsure, see a doctor for an accurate diagnosis.
How long does it take for jock itch to subside?
Jock itch usually clears within 2 weeks with adequate treatment. If it persists for longer, you should see your doctor.
Can jock itch subside without any medication?
Jock itch often subsides with the use of appropriate antifungal creams and starts to improve within days. It is likely to persist or worsen without any treatment. At times, when jock itch is extensive or particularly severe, antifungal tablets may be prescribed.
Is it normal for jock itch to smell bad?
Jock itch can smell particularly bad, especially when it is severe and untreated. The fungus produces various chemicals that are not so pleasant to the nose! At times, other coexisting bacteria and yeast can contribute to the nasty smell.
What are the complications of an untreated jock itch?
Left untreated, jock itch can become severe and spread to other parts of the body such as the hands (tinea manuum), body (tinea corporis), and nails (onychomycosis).
Cracks on the skin (fissures) can occur, which can be very painful and take longer to treat.
The fungal infection also compromises your skin’s ability to keep out other microbes.
Hence, it can create a portal of entry for other microbes such as bacteria, which can then lead to cellulitis.
In addition, the inflammation caused by jock itch may cause other changes to your body and immune system that have not been studied well so far.
Does rubbing alcohol help kill the germs that cause jock itch?
Rubbing alcohol can be irritating to the skin and cause other problems such as dermatitis. There are many more effective ways of treating jock itch than rubbing alcohol.
Start by visiting your local trusted pharmacist or doctor for appropriate advice regarding which products to use.
Can one get jock itch from a toilet seat?
I would think that one would have to be unlucky to catch jock itch from a toilet seat, although it is possible.
Most individuals have the ability to prevent microbes from infecting their skin even when there is direct skin-to-skin contact.
However, when the immune system is impaired or the skin environment is advantageous to the growth of the microbe (such as in hot and sweaty conditions or a poor skin condition to begin with), one can catch a fungal infection through contact with objects that harbor the fungus.
Any important points to remember regarding jock itch?
Always keep your skin in good health by regularly using simple moisturizers and avoiding overheating. Shower after exercise and dry thoroughly in between skin folds.
Do not let the symptoms persist for too long before you seek medical attention. Treat infections adequately by following the treatment instructions carefully.
About Dr. Chris Jalilian: Dr. Jalilian is a fellow of the Australasian College of Dermatologists and founding director of Melbourne Skin & Dermatology. His interests span from skin cancer to acne and rosacea as well as the use of lasers and injectables in cosmetic dermatology.
He is a consultant dermatologist at Monash Health and the Skin Health Institute (formerly Skin & Cancer Foundation), where he is also a board member.