Thanks to the pandemic, we're all at home way more than usual — and that's a good thing, from a public health perspective. But all that sitting around at home isn't without risk, especially if you're not, uh, airing things out on a regular basis.
David Kim, a board-certified dermatologist in California, tells Allure a sedentary lifestyle puts people at a higher risk than ever for jock itch, which is an uncomfortable, itchy rash that thrives in warm, sweaty areas of the body, like the groin and under the breasts. "Constantly sitting traps heat and moisture in the groin, which increases the risk for jock itch," he says. "Anything that's tight-fitting and not as breathable can put you at a risk for an infection."
Wondering if you're at risk, or if your existing rash might be related to a fungal infection? Here's everything you need to know about jock itch, according to dermatologists and an OB-GYN.
According to Apple Bodemer, a dermatologist in Madison, Wisconsin, jock itch — also called tinea cruris – is a condition caused by a fungal infection of the skin. Because fungus thrives in warm, moist environments, jock itch usually occurs in areas where skin touches skin, such as the groin. In spite of the name, jock itch doesn't only affect athletes, and it doesn't only happen in the groin. Heather Beall, an OB-GYN in Crystal Lake, Illinois, says the condition can also occur under the breasts, usually in people with larger chests. A similar fungal rash — tinea pedis, also known as athlete’s foot — can happen between people's toes.
The main symptom of jock itch, Kim says, is an itchy, red rash. “The classic rash is a ring-shaped red rash with red borders," he explains. "The edges are red and scaly, and the middle part is usually clear." According to Kim, another classic feature of fungal infection is that it's symmetrical — usually, it occurs on both the left and right sides.
Jock itch can be uncomfortable, but Kim says it's usually nothing to worry about, especially if it's treated right away. "It can definitely spread to the genitals but typically it does stay limited within the groin because people will notice it and start to treat it before it gets any worse," he says.
According to Bodemer, jock itch can happen anytime sweat and moisture stay on the body for a long time and cause fungus or yeast overgrowth — like if a person is sitting down for a long period while wearing tight-fitting undergarments or pants, or continues wearing sweaty underwear after working out.
While it can happen to anyone, Bodemer says that activity level, age, and weight can all be risk factors. Diabetes also increases the risk for jock itch, Kim says, because fungus feeds on sugar. Additionally, Beall tells Allure that people experiencing yeast infections can also develop jock itch if the infection spreads to the outside of the vagina.
Another more direct risk factor is the presence of athlete's foot, another fungal infection. According to Kim, fungus is common in most people’s everyday environment — and most people have it on their skin — so it's easy to spread. For example, you could develop jock itch if you have athlete's foot, and you touch your feet and drag the fungus up when you put your underwear on. You can also spread jock itch by itching athlete's foot, then touching your groin with that hand, or even a towel that has the fungus on it.
Luckily, jock itch is generally easy to treat. Bodemer recommends people start by self-treating with over-the-counter treatment anti-fungal creams, such as clotrimazole or terbinafine. You can also try DIY home remedies. For example, Bodemer says 12 drops of tea tree oil diluted in a tablespoon of coconut oil or aloe gel can help with fungal infections — just make sure to stop if the remedy irritates your skin or makes you itchier.
If you think your jock itch originated from a vaginal yeast infection, Beall tells Allure that you can apply an over-the-counter vaginal yeast cream on the skin. But if you have both a vaginal yeast infection and jock itch, your doctor might prescribe an oral antifungal medication for both problems.
You should get relief from medication, but if you opt to treat jock itch with an over-the-counter cream, Kim says you may have to apply an antifungal cream to the area for four to six weeks before it completely resolves. In the meantime, Bodemer says, you can use absorbent powders or topical zinc oxide to absorb moisture. If you develop open sores or if it’s interfering with daily activities, Bodemer recommends seeing your primary care provider or a dermatologist.
Whatever you do, avoid putting hydrocortisone on jock itch; fungus feeds on steroids, so it'll only make things worse. "Even though the rash appears less red and itchy, you're creating a robust colony, and it will come back with a vengeance once you stop using it," Kim says.
While treating jock itch is often relatively simple, it's better to avoid it in the first place. The most important step, Beall explains, is to do your best to stay dry. Make sure you're changing your underwear daily, or even more than once a day if you tend to get sweaty. If you work out, wear moisture-wicking undergarments and clothes, and always dry off and change clothes immediately afterward.
If you have athlete's foot, Kim recommends putting on socks before you put on your underwear. If you have jock itch, you can spread it to your feet, so don't touch your feet to your groin area. The idea is to prevent spreading the fungus around your body.
While it's a good idea to shower regularly, Beall says people with jock itch should use a mild, fragrance-free soap, and only wash their groin or genital area once a day or every other day.
It might be super itchy and even a little awkward, but don’t be disheartened — Kim says jock itch is extremely common, and when it happens, it's not because of anything people are doing wrong. "The day-to-day routine has changed significantly, and by being responsible and staying at home, we are creating a perfect medium for the fungus to thrive," he explains.
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