Fungal infections are named for the affected part of the body. Cruris is derived from the Latin word for leg, hence Tinea cruris, for the fungal rash affecting the area where the leg joins the pelvis. Fungi seem to thrive in dark moist places. Jock itch has been found most often in males, especially those who wear athletic equipment and frequently use public showers and locker rooms. It is also thought that some fungal infections may be spread by towels that may be inadequately cleansed between gym/spa users, but this has not been clearly documented.
Fungal infections can invade or spread to various other areas of the body, and are named for the affected body part. For example, Tinea capitis is a fungal infection
Causes & symptoms
The mode of transmission of fungal infections is not clear, but it seems that some individuals are more prone to development of the infection than others. An average of one in five people develops fungal infection at some point during their lifetime. Fungal infection can also be carried by household pets, such as cats and dogs, or by farm animals. In animals, fungal infection manifests itself as a missing area of fur. In humans, as the fungus grows, it spreads to surrounding tissues in a circular fashion, with the skin in the middle returning to a normal appearance. The borders of the affected area may look red and scaly, and the individual may complain of intense itching and/or burning. Because the borders develop a raised appearance, there may appear to be a worm beneath the skin and be referred to as ringworm. There is, however, no worm affecting the skin or underlying tissue in cases of fungal infections, including jock itch.
Often a case of jock itch can be identified based on the characteristic description previously described. If assessed by a conventional doctor, the area of affected skin may be scraped onto a glass slide for definitive diagnosis under the microscope. In order to determine the exact type of fungus present, a small piece of affected skin may be sent to a laboratory for further study or cultured via scrapings from the affected area.
Topical treatments include poultices of peppermint, oregano, or lavender. Tea tree oil diluted with a carrier oil of almond oil can be applied to the rash several times per day. Cedarwood and jasmine oils can relieve itching when applied in the same manner. Grapefruit seed extract can be taken as a strong solution of 15 drops in 1 oz of water.
Bupleurum, or Chinese thoroughwax, is an Asian plant that has been used in traditional Chinese medicine and Japanese Kampo formulations to treat jock itch and other fungal skin infections. Bupleurum contains compounds known as saikosaponins, which have anti-allergic and anti-inflammatory effects.
A good remedy for jock itch is to wash the groin area with the diluted juice of a freshly squeezed lemon, which can help dry up the rash. A hair dryer on the cool setting can also be used on the area after showering to dry it thoroughly. A warm bath relieves itching in many patients. The affected area should kept clean and dry, and patients are advised to wear loose-fitting pure cotton underwear. Fabrics that contain polyester or nylon hold moisture against the body.
Typical conventional treatment for jock itch involves the use of an antifungal cream, spray, or powder twice a day for about two weeks. Two commonly used over-thecounter antifungal preparations are clotrimazole (Lotrimin) and tolnaftate (Tinactin). While the tendency to discontinue treatment once itching disappears is common, patients should use the antifungal preparation for a full two-week course in order to prevent recurrence of the infection. As of 2002, doctors recommend continuing the treatment for a full week following clinical clearance of the infection.
Most tinea infections resolve without scarring or spread of infection below the skin's surface. Inflammation, however, may require the use of a combination antifungal/steroid medication.
Careful attention to skin hygiene, including the maintenance of clean, dry, and intact skin, is the most important step in preventing the development of fungal infection. Light clothing should be worn during warm weather to decrease perspiration and allow dissipation of body heat. Clean and dry cotton underwear will wick perspiration away from the skin, and prevent jock itch from developing. Use baby powder to keep the area dry during exercise. Do not share towels at the gym. Dietary measures discussed under treatment will also prevent initial fungal infection and/or recurrence.
Gottlieb, Bill. New Choices in Natural Healing. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press, Inc., 1995.
Park, K. H., J. Park, D. Koh, and Y. Lim. "Effect of Saikosaponin-A, a Triterpenoid Glycoside, Isolated from Bupleurum falcatum on Experimental Allergic Asthma." Phytotherapy Research 16 (June 2002): 359-363.
Weinstein, A., and B. Berman. "Topical Treatment of Common Superficial Tinea Infections." American Family Physician 65 (May 15, 2002): 2095-2102.
American Academy of Dermatology. 930 East Woodfield Rd., PO Box 4014, Schaumburg, IL 60168. (847) 330-0230. <www.aad.org>.
American Association of Oriental Medicine. 5530 Wisconsin Avenue, Suite 1210, Chevy Chase, MD 20815. (301) 941-1064. <www.aaom.org>.
Rebecca J. Frey, PhD