Fort Worth, Texas,
10:14 AM

7 Skin Conditions Young Athletes Need to Know About

and 7 Ways to Protect Against Them

Growing up, I loved playing sports. I loved the competition and the comradery of being on a team.

My dad loved watching me play and my mom did as well. What she didn’t enjoy as much was throwing all of my sweaty, dirty clothes in the wash or sitting down on her furniture after a tennis match.

Let’s face it, young athletes are gross. And with all the sweat, grime and lack of showering or bathing come some pretty nasty infections, warts and viruses.

Here are 7 skin risks your young gym rat needs to be aware of as summer ends and the school sport seasons begin:

1. Staph skin infections

Staphylococcus aureus is a bacteria that can cause a variety of infections. The most common infection that spreads through gyms are skin infections such as cellulitis and abscesses. Symptoms of cellulitis include warmth, redness and pain at the site. When an abscess forms, it will appear as a hard ball that is painful and can be filled with fluid. Infections can become more severe if bacteria find their way into the bloodstream or the infection releases toxins that can cause dangerous, even life-threatening symptoms. Treatment includes antibiotics to treat the infection and, in the case of abscess, drainage of the abscess.

2. Folliculitis

Folliculitis is another bacterial skin infection with causes an itchy rash which appears like small pimples or red patches all over the skin. These infections occur as bacteria get in the hair follicle. It is sometimes called hot tub rash or hot tub folliculitis so athletes who are receiving hot tub therapy for injury may be more at risk. Folliculitis can often resolve without treatment but your doctor may prescribe a specific antibiotics cream like mupirocin or even antibiotics by mouth in severe cases.

3. Impetigo

Impetigo is a rash that appears as a red base with a crusted yellow scab (“honey-crusted”). They are mostly likely to occur in areas where there is a break in the skin or in areas where children have picked at scabs. Scratching the infection can cause it to spread to other areas. Some of the infections will respond to over the counter medications but these infections often require prescription antibiotic creams and oral medications.

4. Warts

Warts can occur on any part of the body but the one that can spread through close physical contact. I cannot find studies that prove it can happen, but anecdotal reports of plantar warts (on the bottom on the feet) have been reported to have been spread in gym showers. Plantars warts are on the bottom of the feet, are usually very thick and hard. They can resolve on their own but, when they do not, they can be very difficult to treat and often require surgical removal.

5. Ringworm

Ringworm is a fungal infection that is most commonly thought to be spread by animals but can be spread from person to person-especially on the scalp through shared hats, brushes and other items. On the body, the rash appears as a circular red ring, usually with normal skin in the middle. On the scalp they can have the circular appearance but often just looks flaky and dry, like cradle cap. Over the counter creams can often treat ringworm on the body. If the scalp is involved, the treatment involves anti-fungal medications by mouth, often for 4-6 weeks.

6. Athlete’s foot

Athlete’s foot is the same type of fungal infection as ringworm except that it affects the feet. The rash will most commonly be located between the toes, where there will be redness, itching and often cracking of the skin. Treatment for athlete’s foot is topical creams-most can be treated with over-the-counter options.

7. Herpes simplex

Herpes simplex (HSV-1) is the virus that causes cold sores. It can causes severe skin lesions and is a particular cause of concerns for wrestlers known as herpes gladiatorum. The rash often appears on the head, neck and shoulders and can be painful but is not always. Affected individuals can also have fever and swollen lymph nodes. Mild cases often do not require treatment but if the child has a severe or long-lasting case, has immune system problems or has frequent outbreaks, they may require treatment.

Now that you know what nasty things are out there, here are 7 ways to protect your child and their teammates:

1.Wear shower shoes - Many of the infections are spread by contact with the feet. While the flowing water of the shower might protect from some infections, walking to and from might even be more dangerous.

2.Wash your stuff - While this might be common sense, seeing a gym t-shirt that can practically stand on its own is not uncommon in a high school locker room. If your child’s coach does the wash, hopefully you’ll be good. If not, remember to double check.

3.Don’t share stuff - Clothes, hair ties, socks, hats, helmets…nothing. Just keep your germs to yourself.

4.Wipe stuff down regularly -Get your child in the habit of wiping down the weight bench, locker room bench, even their own equipment frequently.

5.Cover open wounds - If your child has an open wound, make sure that they are taking precautions to keep it covered. Because many of the infections love open wounds, you’re protecting both your child and their teammates.

6.Get stuff checked out early - Accurate diagnosis and early treatment is the best way to contain an outbreak. Trying to keep things on the down-low hurts everyone.

7.Don’t participate until fully cleared - Most of your kids will not be a professional athlete. If they are going to be, missing a few days of practice because they are contagious isn’t going to change that. Follow the advice of the trainer/doctor.

Regardless of what sport your young athletes play, I hope they have a great, safe and clean season.

Get to know Justin Smith, M.D.

Justin Smith, M.D., is a pediatrician and the Medical Advisor for Digital Health for Cook Children's in Fort Worth, Texas. He has an active community on both Facebook and Twitter as @TheDocSmitty and writes weekly for Cook Children's He believes that strategic use of social media and technology by pediatricians to connect with families can deepen their relationship and provide a new level of convenience for both of their busy lifestyles.Dr. Smith’s innovative pediatric clinic, a pediatric clinic “designed by you,” is set to open in Trophy Club in 2017.

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