The Dangers of Skin Infections in the World Of Sports
Tiny microbes on gym equipment, damp towels and locker room floors are sending athletic giants to the hospital—and can have devastating and long-lasting impacts on their physical condition. Some of the most notable cases of MRSA include otherwise healthy athletes who noticed a suspicious pimple or boil that eventually ended their athletic careers.
Gyms and locker rooms are the perfect breeding grounds for a host of bacteria and fungi that cause sports skin infections ranging from the merely annoying itchy rash to the outright serious infection. Everyone working out at the gym, playing contact sports (particularly those with eczema or sensitive skin) needs to take precautions. Fortunately, smart sports hygiene, appropriate skin care products, and vigilance can prevent a locker-room skin infection from becoming a tragedy.
The Most Common Skin Infection Dangers Lurking in Locker Rooms
The following are three of the most common harmful microbes spreading in the warm, sweaty, damp environments of gyms and locker rooms:
1. Staphylococcus aureus (SA)
“Staph” is extremely common in locker rooms, shower stalls, on gym equipment, and in the noses and skin of fellow athletes who are "carriers". The infection can spread by sharing a towel, a razor, gym equipment, shower stalls, or skin-to-skin contact during sports. People with eczema and small cuts or abrasions are particularly vulnerable but proper hygiene can cut the infection risk.
SA normally manifests as a skin rash resembling pimples or boils. If bacteria enters the blood stream, life-threatening infections in the form of pneumonia, meningitis or sepsis can send an otherwise healthy person to the hospital.
Prompt medical attention and an aggressive course of antibiotics can kill SA, but methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a burgeoning strain nearly immune to the strongest antibiotics. Athletes who notice any suspicious boils or pimples (particularly on frequently rubbed areas) accompanied by a fever should seek immediate medical attention.
2. Fungal infections
Fungi that cause everything from athlete’s foot and ringworm to jock itch and yeast infections thrive in places like gyms, locker rooms, swimming pools, saunas, and shower stalls where the air and surfaces are damp and warm. Symptoms of common fungal infections include:
- Ringworm—Itchy, ring-shaped rashes that commonly appear between fingers and toes but also sometimes on other parts of the body.
- Athletes Foot—cracking, peeling, flaking, itchy skin between the toes or elsewhere on the foot.
- Jock Itch—An itchy rash in the groin area that can blister and crack without treatment.
3. Streptococcal bacteria
Even the bacteria that can cause strep throat can cause unpleasant skin infections when compromised skin encounters it on gym equipment, water bottles, towels, or other locker-room surfaces. Aside from a nasty upper-respiratory infection, strep bacteria can cause blistering impetigo or cellulitis, which can also be life-threatening if it spreads. Cellulitis usually manifests as an area of hot, tender, swollen, red skin, most frequently on the lower legs.
Who is Most at Risk from Skin Infections
Anyone who frequents the gym risks contact with skin infections, but athletes with cuts, abrasions, Atopic Dermatitis (AD), or an otherwise weakened immune system run a higher risk of becoming infected.
People with AD should rigorously follow their doctor’s skin care recommendations; anyone with a cut or abrasion should keep the area clean, treated, and properly bandaged.
How Can Athletes Avoid Skin Infections?
Proper hygiene and reducing the conditions in which bacteria and fungi thrive can successful reduce the risk of contracting skin infections:
- Never share towels, soap, flip-flops, razors, or other personal care items with others. Clean and dry these items between uses.
- Do not go barefoot; wear flip flops in the showers and locker room. Clean and allow flip flops to dry between uses.
- Shower thoroughly after workouts. Use a specially-formulated body wash for a thorough cleansing. For example, CLn® SportWash was especially designed to cleanse infection-prone skin and earned the National Eczema Association Seal of Acceptance.
- Use gym wipes to disinfect equipment before and after using.
- Launder gym clothing and towels in hot water with a strong detergent and dry thoroughly before using them again.
- Allow athletic shoes to dry out completely before the next workout.
- Keep fingernails and toenails properly clipped, clean, and dry. CLn® Hand & Foot Wash was formulated to thoroughly cleanse infection-sensitive feet and hands and removes dirt, odor, and grime from under vulnerable toenails and fingernails.
Skin Infection Treatments
If you notice any cuts, pimples, rashes or red spots, particularly on areas that are rubbed or worn away during workouts, do not ignore them—particularly if accompanied by a fever or other symptoms. Never pick at or try to lance boils or pimples as this can further spread the infection, both internally and externally. Clean the area thoroughly and see a doctor immediately if pain and swelling increase in spite of appropriate cleaning and first aid measures.
Depending on the diagnosis, a doctor may prescribe a course of antibiotics, anti-fungal creams, and bleach baths. Bleach baths might seem harsh, but they are effective; although gentler solutions of sodium hypochlorite are just as helpful. Products such as CLn® BodyWash, CLn® SportWash and CLn® Hand & Foot Wash are formulated with sodium hypochlorite to kill bacteria without irritating sensitive skin. Studies have shown that sodium hypochlorite is particularly helpful for treating skin rashes in individuals with sensitive skin and atopic dermatitis.