An introduction to jock's itch
Jock’s itch, or tinea cruris, is a fungal infection caused by an abundance of bacteria in the groin area.
As the name might suggest, this skin infection is found primarily in active adult males who sweat a lot or wear restrictive clothing. In this way, jock’s itch is very similar to athlete’s foot, and both conditions can occur in conjunction with one another, although jock’s itch is not known to be as contagious as athlete’s foot.
The fungal infection responsible for jock’s itch thrives in sweaty, humid environments making it especially prominent in countries with a tropical climate. Although it is considered to be a moderate health complaint, jock’s itch can become aggravated if it is left untreated, spreading to the thighs and the genital area.
The causes of jock's itch
Jock’s itch is caused by the same strain of fungus responsible for ringworm and athlete’s foot, Candida albicans, which thrives in warm, moist environments.
When you leave sweat on your skin unwashed, your skin cells can start to deteriorate, allowing bacteria and other spores to permeate your body.1 Sweat also provides moisture and heat – the perfect breeding conditions for a fungal infection.
However, there are a number of different factors to consider when thinking about the causes of jock’s itch, such as:
- Weak immune system: If your immune system is weakened, either by stress or a pre-existing health complaint such as allergies or diabetes, then it will become more susceptible to bacterial or fungal infections, and less able to combat an overgrowth of fungal yeast or an attack on your skin cells. Another factor that can also impact your immune system is the levels of candida yeast in your gut. This is because the candida yeast can emit a poisonous toxin called acetaldehyde, which can encourage the activities of nasty free-radicals, leading to cellular damage. Your immune system will be required to fight the effects of this toxin, but if your immune function is weak, it will struggle to defend your cells against the free-radicals, leading to a host of troubling symptoms
- Poor nutrition: What you eat can affect the population of fungi in your body. Fungi naturally exist in your digestive tracts, but when they start to reproduce too rapidly, this can have a knock-on effect on other areas of your body. If you eat a diet high in sugar and carbohydrates, it can encourage this growth of unfriendly bacteria and fungus, worsening any pre-existing symptoms of jock’s itch. This is because the unfriendly bacteria in your gut feed on refined sugars and once they start to multiply it can influence the population of the friendly bacteria, responsible for regulating the growth of candida yeast. If you are malnourished it also means that your skin is not getting enough nutrients, weakening the epidermis and making you more vulnerable to a fungal infection.
- Stress: Stress can have a very negative impact on your immune system. This is because when you experience emotional distress, it can trigger your sympathetic nervous system. Once this happens, your blood sugar levels will be raised, providing the unfriendly bacteria in your gut with an increased source of food. Stress can also upset your digestion, leading to issues like constipation, which can also increase the population of unfriendly bacteria in your digestive tract, diminishing the levels of friendly bacteria and leading to an increase in the candida yeast. The inflammatory chemicals released by your immune system can also agitate your symptoms and eventually, if this process is continuously repeated, your immune system will become fatigued and sluggish
- Poor hygiene: This is an obvious one, but poor hygiene can attribute to the growth and contamination of fungal infections such as jock’s itch. It’s absolutely essential that you wash yourself regularly, especially after engaging in vigorous physical activity, and dry yourself thoroughly afterwards. If not, bacteria can spread and fungi will have an opportunity to reproduce, aggravating your symptoms and causing your rash to spread to other areas of your body, such as your genitals
- Direct contact: Jock’s itch is not known to be as contagious as athlete’s foot or ringworm, but it can still be contracted by skin to skin contact with an infected party. Sharing towels or spending time in a heavily populated, humid environment such as a sauna or swimming pool changing rooms, can cause you to come into contact with the afflicted and encourage the spread of the infection, particularly if you are sharing towels or clothing with a sufferer.
The symptoms of jock's itch
The symptoms of jock’s itch are very visible and recognisable. The infection affects areas of the skin around the groin, making it highly uncomfortable for the sufferer; especially it spreads to the thighs and genitals. Jock’s itch can usually be characterised by:
- Itching: The inflammatory chemicals released by the immune system during a bout of jock’s itch can contribute towards itchiness. However, it is important that you try to resist the urge to scratch your skin as it can weaken the epidermis even further and make you more susceptible to contracting a secondary bacterial infection
- A rash: You can often develop a rash during an episode of jock’s itch. This is because the inflammatory chemicals released by the immune system can cause your blood vessels to dilate in the affected area, leading to the tell-tale redness that accompanies a fungal skin infection
- Dry, peeling skin: Your skin can become very dry and brittle during a bout of jock’s itch. This is because the candida yeast is feeding off the keratin found in your epidermis. Keratin is a tough, structural protein and without it, your skin can become very fragile and prone to peeling
- Blistering: Small, painful blisters can appear during an episode of jock’s itch, usually appearing in the folds of your skin. These can be quite uncomfortable but should not be squeezed under any circumstances as this can damage your epidermis and make it easier for bacteria to permeate your skin
- Stress: Although the symptoms of jock’s itch manifest in a region of the body that is not often visible to the general public, experiencing the infection can still be quite stressful. Physical symptoms such as blisters and itchiness can be very aggravating, even disrupting your sleep patterns.
There are a number of home remedies that you can try to alleviate your symptoms, some of which have endured the test of time. If your symptoms continue to persist though, then you should go and speak to your doctor as soon as possible.
- Relax: Stress can place an intense amount of pressure on your immune and digestive systems, so it’s important that you try to remain calm if you are suffering from a fungal skin infection. It can be difficult, but make sure that you are taking some time out of your hectic routine to focus on yourself. This could mean simply going to bed an hour earlier with a good book or going for a brisk walk out in the fresh air – whatever you enjoy doing. You could even try practicing yoga or meditation as both can teach you proper breathing techniques and ways of soothing your body in tense situations
- Good nutrition: As we mentioned earlier, your diet can play a decisive role in how the candida yeast behaves in your digestive tract. Instead of reaching for a bar of chocolate, try going for a packet of dried fruit instead. Make sure that you are getting enough anti-oxidants in your diet, especially vitamins C, A and B. These can usually be found in fresh fruit, sweet potatoes or wholegrains. You could even try blitzing up one of our healthy smoothies to improve your intake of nutrients! It might be an idea to incorporate more anti-fungal foods like garlic, onions and ginger into your cooking. Try to make sure you are drinking plenty of water and, if you start craving a cup of coffee, you could try our coffee substitute Bambu, which is entirely caffeine-free.
- Proper hygiene: It cannot be overstated how important it is for you to keep yourself clean and to wash regularly, especially if you are very pro-active or favour an energetic lifestyle. If you wash yourself often, particularly after exercising, it should diminish your chances of catching jock’s itch as you will be taking away the environment that it thrives in and preventing it from reproducing. It also important to make sure you dry yourself properly afterwards as dampness can cause bacteria on your body to breed
- Salt water: Salt works as a natural anti-sceptic, purging your skin of any harmful infections or unfriendly bacteria. Washing your groin area in salt water can kill off fungal spores, effectively reducing your symptoms and inhibiting fungal or bacterial growth
- Apple cider vinegar: Apple cider vinegar has natural anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties, making it an extremely effective treatment for a fungal infection like jock’s itch. Dilute the liquid with water – usually one part apple cider vinegar, three parts water – and apply topically to the affected area. If you are interested in this remedy, then please visit Your Health Food Store which stocks a selection of apple cider vinegar products.
- Onion: Not an obvious combatant in the fight against fungal infections, however, the onion does possess natural anti-fungal properties. In a study conducted by Ankri and Mirelman, it was revealed that allicin, a compound found in onions and garlic, can restrict the growth of fungi and bacteria, making it very useful if you are suffering from a fungal infection.2 You could try taking Allicin max, a supplement that contains high levels of allicin, which may improve your symptoms.
There are a range of natural remedies available to ease and treat any fungal infections or skin inflammations; however it is still important to contact your doctor if your symptoms continue to persist for a prolonged period of time.
- Neem cream: Neem has often been used in the treatment of dry, itchy skin conditions and is known to have a soothing effect on troubled skin. Neem Cream is made from extracts of neem leaves and is suitable for children over the age of 2, although it should not be used by breastfeeding or pregnant women, or those that suffer from nut allergies
- Echinaforce®: Echinaforce® is made from extracts Echinacea, a flower herb often used in the treatment of viral infections. This remedy can work to support your immune system and improve your immune function. Echinaforce is suitable for children over the age of 12 but should not be taken by breastfeeding or pregnant mothers
- Molkosan®: Molkosan® helps to increase the levels of friendly bacteria in your digestive tract, keeping the population of candida yeast regulated. This can help to prevent a candida overgrowth and help to relieve your internal symptoms
- Spilanthes: Spilanthes is a natural tincture solution made using leaves from the flowering herb, spilanthes oleracea. The tincture works to ease any external symptoms and to regulate the production of yeast in the gut, preventing it from exponentially reproducing. Spilanthes can be taken alongside molkosan, as both remedies can work in conjunction with one another, improving the overall treatment of fungal infections.
If home and herbal remedies have not worked for you, then you should try to see your doctor as soon as possible. They will be able to advise on a range of conventional medicines that may help to relieve any pain or discomfort.
- Anti-fungal creams: Anti-fungal creams or gels are normally the first port of call when it comes to a fungal infection. They are usually applied topically to the affected area and can be easily bought over the counter at your local pharmacy
- Steroid creams: If you find that orthodox anti-fungal creams are not working, then your doctor might prescribe you a steroid cream instead. These creams should not be taken for more than two weeks consecutively, otherwise you will start to display the unpleasant side-effects associated with the medication
- Anti-fungal tablets: Your doctor might prescribe you a course of anti-fungal tablets, if other treatments have not worked. These tablets are usually taken orally but can come with a string of side-effects such as dizziness or nausea.