Jock itch is an infection of skin-loving fungus in the genital area. Doctors call this infection tinea cruris. The infection causes redness, itching, and a strong, often distinctive, smell. An estimated 20 percent of people in the world have experienced jock itch at some point in their lives, according to a systematic review on the topic. Not only is jock itch strong-smelling, but it’s uncomfortable. Keep reading to find out how to recognize it and what you can do about it if you have it.

Jock itch can cause a musty, foul-smelling (especially in severe cases) odor. The smell can be yeast-like in nature, which you may have smelled before when something like a loaf of bread becomes moldy. Sometimes, the smell may also have a sour aspect.

You’ll also see other signs of jock itch, including an itchy rash around the groin that may be red, slightly swollen and sometimes painful.

Doctors don’t use smell to diagnose jock itch, however. They can usually look at the appearance of the genital, pubic or perineal areas to determine the likely cause. Ideally, you should be able to treat jock itch before the smell is so profound that others can smell it.

The fungi that cause jock itch are responsible for its smell. These fungi give off compounds that have a musty smell. The more severe the infection, the more fungus that is present, which can increase the smell.

If you are also sweating in the affected area, bacteria that naturally live in skin folds in the body may also contribute to a jock itch smell.

People use fungi to create some foods and drinks like beer and bread. The fungi create chemical reactions necessary for the food’s production. While the smell isn’t exactly the same, some people may notice old food products have a similar musty, unpleasant smell as jock itch. This is due to the overgrowth of excess fungus in both situations.

Keeping affected areas clean and dry can help treat jock itch and prevent it from coming back. Some of the other ways to treat jock itch include:

  • always wearing clean clothing
  • changing out of sweaty clothing after exercising or playing sports
  • when showering, cleaning the genital area with a mild soap
  • not wearing tight-fitting clothes
  • drying completely after bathing before putting on clothes
  • applying topical anti-fungal OTC medications with terbinafine, clotrimazole, and miconazole to clean, dry skin as directed
  • avoiding walking barefoot, especially in public showers (fungal infections can easily transfer from the feet to the groin)

See a doctor if over-the-counter treatments aren’t effective. They can likely prescribe stronger treatments, such as oral terbinafine and itraconazole.

Make sure to use them as directed. Stopping too soon can allow fungi to come back more easily, even if you aren’t having symptoms any more.

Some medications aren’t effective in treating jock itch. These include nystatin powder, which doctors may prescribe to treat fungal skin infections. Nystatin treats a different fungus type than the fungus that causes jock itch.

Topical anti-itch steroids also may make jock itch worse instead of better.

The fungus that causes jock itch thrive in warm, moist environments. Wearing tight-fitting underwear or clothing can increase the likelihood you’ll sweat, which further attracts the fungus. Men, especially adolescent men, are more likely to get jock itch.

Other risk factors for jock itch include:

Doctors have also found that some people’s genetic history may increase their risks for jock itch. Genetics may determine the natural flora and fauna (including fungi) that live on a person’s skin.

Fungi are naturally present on your body. It’s when they grow in large numbers that infections like jock itch can occur. By removing sweaty clothing, keeping the skin clean and dry, and refraining from wearing excessively tight clothing, you can prevent this overgrowth whenever possible.

Jock itch has a yeasty smell that is due to the fungal overgrowth present on the body. Keeping the affected areas clean and dry and applying topical creams can help to reduce the smell until you eliminate the infection. If you keep experiencing jock itch, see a doctor. The yeasts that tend to cause jock itch in your body may have built up over time, leading to resistance to over-the-counter treatments.