Staying in the Game: Know the Specifics on Skin Problems Among Athletes By Dr. Corinne Howington

Athletes are known for training hard and playing hard. From youth to professionals, they compete in close proximity to one another and are at a high risk of spreading both common and serious skin infections. Approximately 56% of infectious diseases in competitive sports are skin related. After all the sweat and tears the players put into practice and the game, no athlete wants to be sidelined due to a skin irritation.

Skin-to-skin contact, heavy sweating, sharing equipment and open cuts all set the stage for infection. Professional athletes may be at a greater risk, but skin infections are prevalent in student athletes and even the recreational sports enthusiast. Skin conditions or infections are typically categorized as bacterial, fungal or viral.

Education is the key to prevention, so let’s examine how to identify, treat and most importantly prevent skin diseases among athletes of all ages.

Bacterial
Many types of bacteria can infect the skin, ranging in seriousness from harmless to life threatening. One of the most dangerous among athletes is known as methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus or MRSA. This type of bacterial disease has been on the rise in recent years.

MRSA is harder to treat than most strains of staphylococcus aureus, more commonly known as staph. In the early stages, it may appear on the skin as a pimple, minor skin issue or boil. This bacterial skin infection is resistant to some commonly used antibiotics and researchers are continuously searching for new varieties to treat the ever-changing MRSA strains. Treatment may require intravenous antibiotics in a hospital setting.

Fungal
Fungal skin infections are typically found in moist, warm areas of the body where skin surfaces meet. The fungi like to live between the toes, in the genital area and under the arms. Fungal infections of the skin are very common and include athlete’s foot, jock itch and ring worm.

Athlete’s foot, or tinea pedis, is very common for those using community baths and locker rooms. Basically, this is a fungal infection of the feet. Symptoms include itching, redness and peeling. Jock itch, also called tinea cruris, is a common fungal infection that affects the genitals, inner thighs and buttocks. Infections occur more frequently in the summer or in warm, wet climates. Tinea corporis, commonly known as ring worm, is not a worm, but rather a fungal infection of the skin. It can appear anywhere on the body and it looks like a circular, red, flat sore. All of these infections can typically be treated with the application of topical medication.

Viral
Finally, viral skin infections are the last area of concern among athletes. Herpes simplex virus (HSV) type 1 is the most common viral form, accounting for 47% of skin issues in collegiate athletes. This is spread from skin-on-skin contact and typically appears on the head, neck and face. HSV usually takes the form of raised blisters and requires oral antiviral medication.

Prevention is key to avoiding these annoying and painful skin irritations. Here are my top five tips for athletes:
1. Athletes should shower immediately after any sports related activity.
2. All athletic clothing should be laundered after each use.
3. Sports equipment, mats and gym bags should be washed and/or disinfected on a daily basis.
4. Athletes should not share towels, water bottles, helmets, razors or other personal athletic equipment.
5. Athletes should keep cuts and abrasions clean and covered with sterile bandages.

Follow these steps to stay competitive and in the game. If you do experience a skin rash, irritation or burning sensation, please seek medical assistance to determine the seriousness of the issue. Knowledge is key with these type of topical problems.

Dr. Corinne Howington, of Low Country Dermatology, is a board certified dermatologist, with expertise in medical, surgical and cosmetic dermatology.

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