Dermatology for Athletes
For athletes, common skin conditions can mean the difference between winning and losing a game. When performance is on the line, it is important that skin ailments be treated (or preferably prevented) with the utmost efficiency and care. Here are a few tips for managing skin conditions common to professional and amateur athletes.
Athlete’s Foot is a common locker-room ailment, contracted by direct contact with surfaces where the fungus is most likely to linger, such as public showers and locker rooms. The fungus is cultivated in moist areas, most commonly in the socks of athletes whose feet sweat in their shoes for long periods of time. Prevention of athlete’s foot is twofold. First, avoid walking barefoot in public areas with moist floors and wash your feet regularly (with anti-fungal shampoo if you have been in places likely to contain the fungus). Second, keep your feet dry and your toenails short, as moist feet will only encourage the fungus.
Treatment of athlete’s foot is trickier, and the most important thing is to make sure that the fungus doesn’t spread. Do not use the same clippers to trim the nails of infected areas as you do to trim normal toenails, and avoid contact between fungus-infected feet and other articles of clothing, such as underwear. A typical athlete’s foot treatment includes topical creams or sprays, accompanied by a strict hygiene regime.
Blisters can occur in almost any sport, and their painful side effects can seriously impact an athlete’s ability to compete. Blisters are caused by repeated rubbing of the skin, and are made worse when the skin is moist. Keeping the skin dry by regularly changing socks helps to prevent blisters on the feet. It is also important to have properly fitting athletic wear. Loose fitting shoes and socks are much more likely to cause blisters than shoes that fit and socks without folds in them. In addition, socks made from hard material are more likely to cause blisters than softer, more ‘spongy’ fabrics.
Minor blisters will heal with rest, but large blisters make need to be drained. To do so, lance the top of the blister and drain the fluid within, leaving the skin of the blister roof to protect the tender area beneath, and cover the area of the blister with a dressing to protect the skin as it heals. Over time, the skin around areas subject to continuous rubbing will thicken and allow athletes continually perform at a high level without the threat of blisters.
Folliculitis is the inflammation of hair follicles caused by friction from clothing, such as tight fitting sports clothing. The inflamed hair follicles usually become infected, resulting in an itchy/painful rash or pus-filled swellings. Folliculitis can also be contracted in pools or hot tubs that have not been properly cleaned, so it is important that these are always properly cared for. Although it can worsen and need treatment, most cases of folliculitis clear up on their own in about 10 days, and can be aided by the use of antiseptic body wash such as cetrimide or Dermol 500 Lotion Wash.
Tinea Corporis Gladiatorum:
A variation of tinea corporis, tinea corporis gladiatorum is caused by the direct skin-to-skin contact of sports such as wrestling, rugby and other contact sports. As tinea coporis gladiatorum is easily transmitted, players found with the condition are usually disqualified from all competition. It is important, then, to recognize its symptoms as soon as possible. Athletes can develop lesions that can be annular or non-annular, which typically begin as erythematous, scaly plaque that may rapidly worsen and enlarge. Treatment typically includes oral and topical programs, and is the same for both athletes and non-athletes.
Herpes Simplex Gladiatorum:
Herpes Gladiatorum is a skin infection caused by the herpes simplex virus that results in itchy, painful blisters lasting many weeks. Like many skin infections, it is transmitted by direct contact and is common in rugby players and other athletes of contact sports. The virus can remain dormant in the body between outbreaks, so it is important to maintain hygiene standards, check for possible outbreaks, and see a dermatologist for diagnosis. Usual treatment consists of oral antivirals.
Because they often spend long periods of time outside in the sun, athletes are especially vulnerable to skin diseases caused by UV ray exposure. The conditions are varied but can be as severe as malignant skin cancer, which usually has to be treated with surgery. To avoid over-exposure to UV rays, wear sun-protective clothing when out exercising in the sun and regularly apply sunscreen. Protective clothing is very comfortable and lightweight, and is between SPF 50 and SPF 100, with excellent UVA protection. Be sure that your sunscreen contains agents that protect against both UVA and UVB rays, as both types of rays can have negative effects on the skin (see Dr Lowe’s advice about Sunscreen for more information).