Sports are built around the concept of teamwork and cooperation–sharing with your teammates so that you can achieve a common goal.
Just as long as you’re not sharing skin infections.
Unfortunately, some skin infections are quite common among athletes due to the unique nature of these activities. Here’s a look at the four most common sport-related skin infections and what athletes and parents can do to prevent them.
This specific virus has one distinguishing feature: benign skin lesions known as mollusca which are small, raised, smooth, and firm. They may be white, pinkish, or flesh-colored, often with a pearly appearance. They can range in size from a pinhead to a pencil eraser.
These lesions can occur anywhere on the body, though they are usually not seen on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet. They may be mistaken for acne at first and scratch off easily with the fingernails. That’s a problem because the virus is entirely contained within the lesions and spreads via contact with the lesions or contact with an infected item.
Unfortunately, this infection is common among athletes with shared equipment or athletes in high contact sports. These include:
- Martial arts
The lesions take a few weeks to form. They typically resolve on their own, but it usually takes six to twelve months for lesions to resolve, in some cases as long as four years.
How to Prevent It
The best way to prevent molluscum contagiosum is to practice good hygiene. The virus only lives in the surface of your skin and finds its way in through breaks, so if you keep your skin clean, the virus won’t have a chance to take root.
You should wash your hands regularly. For athletes with shared equipment, equipment should be sanitized between uses. You should not share any personal items like towels, gear, or clothing.
Herpes gladiatorum, a.k.a. mat herpes, is a common skin infection caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1, the same virus that causes cold sores around your mouth.
Unlike other skin ailments on this list, the onset of herpes gladiatorum comes with other symptoms, including:
- Tingling in the affected area
- Swollen glands
But the key feature of herpes gladiatorum is the appearance of a cluster of lesions or blisters. These are clear, fluid-filled, and typically surrounded by red skin. These last for about 10 days before they heal. Someone may be infectious regardless of whether or not they have open sores.
Unfortunately, once you have herpes gladiatorum, you have it for life. It may sit dormant for years between flares, or it may flare up regularly. You are not infectious if the virus lays dormant, but once it becomes active, you’re infectious again. This is why prevention is critical.
How to Prevent It
As with molluscum contagiosum, good hygiene is the best prevention tactic.
You should shower immediately after practice, always using your own towel, soap, and razors. Practice clothing should be washed after each use and equipment should be cleaned after every use. If you have to share equipment, always sanitize it between uses. Your towels should also be washed after each use, run with bleach, and dried on high heat.
This particular skin infection is so common among athletes that it’s named for athletes, though you don’t have to be an athlete to get it.
Athlete’s foot is a fungal infection caused by tinea pedis and is closely related to other fungal skin infections like ringworm and jock itch (both common among athletes).
Athlete’s foot in particular is characterized by a scaly rash on the foot that causes itching, stinging, or burning. It typically begins between the toes and can spread to other parts of the foot (or other parts of the body). Some athlete’s foot infections may take the form of ulcers or sores. If you have the moccasin variety, which causes chronic dryness on your soles and may travel up your foot, it’s quite easy to mistake it for eczema.
This particular fungal infection is common among athletes because it spreads among people who sweat while wearing tight-fitting shoes and socks. Sound familiar?
It is mildly contagious and typically spreads via direct contact, either with an item carrying infected skin particles or contact with the infected area. You can actually spread athlete’s foot to other areas of your body this way.
How to Prevent It
The single best way to prevent athlete’s foot is to deny it optimal growing conditions. That means keeping your feet clean and dry.
After you shower, for example, you should dry your feet thoroughly, especially between the toes. You should also change out your shoes regularly so they have time to dry between uses, and you should always wear clean socks.
While athletes may not be able to change to regular shoes, they can switch between multiple pairs of shoes. For example, a soccer player could rotate between three pairs of cleats so that each pair has time to dry between uses. And while it’s easy to heave your smelly gym bag in a corner, take out your dirty socks and remove your shoes. Socks should be washed and shoes should be aired. It won’t smell great, but you won’t get an infection.
In shared showers, you should always wear sandals. Shared showers plus bare feet are a breeding ground for widespread athlete’s foot. You should also rotate between a few pairs of sandals so they can try completely between uses.
Last but not least are cellulitis and impetigo, two different skin infections commonly caused by Staphylococcus bacteria. About 25% of people carry staph infections in their mouth, nose, or genital area without symptoms of infection, but for those that develop symptoms, cellulitis and impetigo are common (and unpleasant) culprits.
Cellulitis is a common skin infection that happens when staphylococcus or streptococcus bacteria get inside a skin wound. It typically affects the skin of the lower legs, particularly the feet (where we’re prone to pick up stray bacteria) and is characterized by redness, swelling, pain, warmth, fever, red spots, or skin blistering.
Impetigo is caused by the same general family of bacteria, but it’s a mild skin condition (though no less unpleasant). It typically affects exposed skin around the mouth, nose, arms, and legs, and is characterized by red, itchy sores that break open and leak clear fluid or pus for a few days. After that, a yellow, crusty scab forms, after which the wound heals without leaving a scar.
How to Prevent It
In both cases, good hygiene and solid wound care are critical for prevention.
You should always use appropriate personal hygiene, including washing with soap and water–especially right after workouts. Wash your hands often, especially after coughing and sneezing. This is how staph often spreads.
If you have an open wound, it should be regularly disinfected, cleaned, and kept covered to prevent bacterial infections.
For athletes, good skin hygiene should be just as much a part of your regular practice as throwing a ball or going for a run. We’re here to make that easier, with physician-designed skincare products that are tough on microbes but gentle on skin, even sensitive skin.
So if you’re ready for skincare that supports your active lifestyle, check out our collection for athletes and active people.