Over the next few weeks to months, locker rooms will start to get busier with athletes of school sports teams as well as exercisers who start to make the switch from outdoor physical activities to indoor exercise sessions at the gym as the days get shorter and colder. Locker room use, albeit convenient and sometimes a necessity, increases the risk for skin infections. The locker room, with its moist and humid environment, is the perfect breeding ground for skin infection producing viruses, bacteria, and fungi.
Common infectious skin conditions that you can be exposed to in the locker room include plantar warts, impetigo contagiosa, athlete's foot (tinea pedis), and ring worm (tinea corporis).
Plantar Warts: Spongy, grainy, hard, and/or rough skin growths that are found on the sole of your foot, often at a pressure point (ball of foot and heel). They are usually brown or grey in color and can have little black dots on the surface which are small clotted capillary blood vessels. Plantar warts can be very painful.
Cause: Human papillomavirus (HPV)
Transmission: Through direct contact with the virus (e.g., floor to foot or person to person). Individuals who have tiny cuts or damaged/broken skin as an entry point for the virus are more susceptible to contracting the condition.
Treatment: Several different treatments are available. Your doctor may recommend an over-the-counter medication such as Salicylic acid. Or, (s)he may suggest freezing the wart with liquid nitrogen. Cutting out the wart is another treatment option your physician may choose.
Impetigo Contagiosa: Initially appears as tiny, fluid-filled blisters that burst to form red spots that crust over creating honey-colored lesions. Impetigo Contagiosa is typically found around the mouth and nose, hands, and forearms, but can occur anywhere on the body.
Cause: Two types of bacteria are responsible. The most common being Staphylococcus aureus (staph). The second is Streptococcus pyogenes (strep).
Transmission: Direct contact with the infected individual. Or, by sharing towels, sports/fitness equipment, clothing, bedding, etc., with an infected individual. The bacteria enter through insect bites or breaks, cuts, cracks, and/or damaged, broken skin.
Treatment: If it is a minor case your doctor may recommend simple good hygienic practices, such as keeping the infected area clean. For more advanced cases (s)he may prescribe an antibiotic ointment or oral antibiotics.
Athlete's Foot (tinea pedis): Itching, stinging, burning sensation between your toes and/or on the soles of your feet associated with red, scaly, peeling, cracked or blistered skin.
Cause: Dermatophytes, mold-like fungi.
Transmission: Contact with the fungi in swimming pools, saunas and on locker room floors or shower stalls. Wearing damp socks and tight-fitting shoes increases your risk.
Treatment: Your doctor may recommend an over-the-counter antifungal medication. If the condition warrants, (s)he may suggest prescription-strength topical or oral medication.
Ring Worm (tinea corporis): A red, scaly, flaky, raised, well-defined circular rash that has normal looking skin in the center that is found on the torso, upper arms, and under the arms (arm pits).
Cause: Dermatophytes, typically of the genus Trichophyton (Note: it is not caused by a worm, its name comes from the characteristic rings associated with the condition)
Transmission: Contact with infected pets. Skin-to-skin contact or by sharing exercise equipment/gear, towels, clothing, bedding, etc., with an infected individual. Athletes who participate in contact sports (e.g. wrestling) are at a greater risk of contracting the condition.
Treatment: For mild cases, your doctor may recommend an over-the-counter antifungal medication. If the condition warrants, (s)he may suggest prescription-strength topical or oral medication.
General Prevention for the Above Skin Infections
- Wear sandals or flip flops in locker rooms, communal shower stalls, and other public places with humid, moist, damp environments
- Set a clean towel down on the locker room bench (or wipe clean) prior to sitting
- Keep skin clean, shower as soon as possible after your athletic event/exercise session
- Wash exercise clothes/uniforms after use
- Disinfect and "wipe down" exercise equipment and machines between uses
- Change socks, especially when wet (keep feet dry, particularly between the toes)
- Avoid wearing tight-fitting shoes and clothing
- Do not share towels, clothing, bedding, athletic gear (e.g., football pads), etc.
- Treat and cover with a bandage any opened skin, such as insect bites, abrasions, cuts, wounds, scrapes, and/or other damaged skin, to prevent an entry site for the infectious organisms
- Wash hands often
- Educate yourself and others about the signs and symptoms and method of transmission of infectious skin conditions
Foundations of Athletic Training, Prevention, Assessment, and Management, 4th Edition, 2009. pp. 882-886. Anderson, M.K., Parr, G.P., and Hall, S.J.
Labels: athlete's foot, dermatophytes, human papillomavirus, impetigo contagiosa, plantar warts, ring worm, Staphylococcus aures, Streptocococcus pyogenes, tinea corporis, tinea pedis