Team sports have a long history of fostering alliance, togetherness and a healthy competitive spirit among athletes but the proximity that brings them together can also create an environment of contagious skin infections. Skin diseases are common among athletes for these reasons, including sometimes questionable hygiene practices.
Let's start with the basics and identify three types of skin diseases: fungal, viral and bacterial.
Fungal – caused by dermatophytes –fungal organisms that live in soil and on animals and humans. There are several types that effect the scalp, body, groin area and feet.
Viral – caused by the herpes simplex virus (a painful recurring infection consisting of clusters of small fluid-filled sacs on a base of red skin) and molluscum contagiosum virus (a highly infectious viral disease caused by the poxvirus).
Bacterial – caused by various gram-positive strains of streptococcus and staphylococcus aureus (staph a.) bacteria. There are several types that effect the face and hair.
"PROTECT YOURSELF – HOW TO AVOID COMMON SKIN CONDITIONS IN SPORTS"
To help prevent infections, athletes, athletic trainers and coaches can follow these tips that our board certified dermatologists experts and the American Academy of Dermatology recommend:
Cuts and scrapes should be kept clean and covered with a bandage until it is fully healed. A cut or scrape allows germs that cause infections to enter because the skin's defense is weakened.
Reduce infections by preventing blisters. Apply a pad, gel or spray to areas that routinely blister. Make sure footwear fits properly. Consider wearing two pairs of socks on your feet and consider using specialized gloves on your hands.
Wear moisture wicking clothes to keep skin dry and prevent germs from growing.
"FOLLOW GOOD HYGIENE PRACTICES"
Shower after every practice and game using an antimicrobial soap on the entire body – also a good idea to wear sandals in the locker room to help reduce infections on the feet.
Always use a clean towel after showering and never share personal care items such as razors, soaps, towels and other personal care items including water bottles.
Sports bags should be washed. Germs can remain in the bags and grow.
Make sure all equipment is disinfected, including protective gear. This should be done daily.
Avoid whirlpools and common tubs if you have an open wound, scrape or scratch.
"MOST SKIN CONDITIONS DO NOT AFFECT SPORTS PARTICIPATION"
As long as there is no risk of blood or body fluid coming into contact with other athletes, young people with skin conditions should be allowed to participate in sports.
We can divide skin conditions into temporary and long-term conditions that may affect participation:
Temporary conditions include skin injuries like cuts and scrapes that need to be covered to prevent blood or body fluid from coming into contact with others; friction blisters should be covered; poison ivy/oak, which is not contagious, but must be covered so that no fluid comes in contact with others.
"ATHLETES WITH VISIBLE SIGNS OF SKIN INFECTION SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED TO PARTICIPATE IN CONTACT, COLLISION OR LIMITED-CONTACT SPORTS"
Fever blisters and cold sores are caused by the herpes virus. Herpes gladiatorum is a type of herpes infection with wrestlers. This is very contagious. Boils and impetigo can sometimes be treated with an antibiotic; however, it may also be an antibiotic-resistant strain that can cause serious illness if it is not recognized and treated early. Other skin conditions include ringworm and scabies.
Long-term skin conditions are not usually limited in sports participation but some require special care to prevent it from making the problem worse.
Psoriasis and vitiligo. Athletes need to protect their skin to avoid making the skin problem flare up.
Athletes should use sunblock, wear hats and sun-protecting clothing for sun sensitive problems.
Hives may flare up during activities and athletes should always have medicine available.
"CHECK YOUR SKIN DAILY. LOOK FOR CHANGES AND REPORT ANY CHANGES TO AN ATHLETIC TRAINER OR DOCTOR SUCH AS CUTS, REDNESS, SWELLING, SORES AND PUS."
One thing to remember is that if your athlete is having a skin issue, it might be a problem for the entire team and their opponents. Many skin infections have a prescribed time line for treatment and limitations on play while skin infections are active. Without treatment, skin infections can exacerbate.
Schedule an immediate appointment with one of our board-certified dermatologists at Pennsylvania Dermatology Partners if you notice anything on your skin that itches, burns or is an infection – without treatment, skin infections can worsen. Choose from our 12 locations.
Dr. Daniel Shurman, M.D.
December 11, 2018