If you recently Googled "How do I get my balls to stop itching?" between scratching yourself vigorously, we have some bad news for you: there's a good chance you have jock itch.
"Jock itch, or tinea curis, is a superficial infection on the skin of the groin caused by a few different species of fungi," Evan Rieder, MD, dermatologist at NYU Langone Dermatology Associates says. Yup — it's a fungal infection on your crotch.
While jock itch can happen to both men and women, guys are more susceptible to the condition because of the groin's external anatomy, which causes added friction and a more humid environment.
"It's so-called because extra tight-fitting clothing, such as the jock strap, will really add fuel to the fire," Ross C. Radusky, MD, dermatologist at SoHo Skin & Laser Dermatology, says.
While jock itch isn't exactly pretty, it's super common and, in most cases, extremely treatable. Stop the scratching and learn more about how to treat and prevent jock itch.
The Causes of Jock Itch
Basically, your crotch is a breeding ground for fungus — especially after a sweaty workout.
"If you don't have time for a shower immediately after, the sweat and bacteria our pores naturally emit have nowhere to go down there. It creates a tempestuous environment for tinea [fungus]," Radusky says.
If you have diabetes, you also may be more at risk.
"Diabetes increases your risk of jock itch in two ways: the excess sugar emitted in your sweat is a fantastic food for fungus, and your immune system is not as strong in general, making you more at risk for common skin infections," Radusky says.
The Signs and Symptoms of Jock Itch
Unsurprisingly, the first sign of jock itch is usually an itch, "accompanied by a light pink or red rash with scaly flakes, usually on the outer edge of the rash," Dr. Radusky warns. "While it can start on the scrotum or the base of the penis, and work its way outward, the thighs and buttocks are the common areas affected."
If left untreated, the rash will continue to spread onto your groin, resulting in cracked skin and occasionally a foul odour.
How to Treat Jock Itch
Fortunately, the treatment is pretty straightforward. You can start with over-the-counter products.
"If your symptoms are itch and redness, start with a dry zinc oxide powder that decreases humidity. Look for ones with antifungal properties too, like ZSC Dusting Powder," says Radusky.
If powder alone doesn't help, try an antifungal cream.
"You can try over-the-counter Resolve Jock Itch or Nizoral 2% cream. Apply in a thin layer and then add the powder," says Radusky. Avoid ointments: they tend to be greasy and promote moisture retention, which will only make your jock itch worse.
If you're not seeing an improvement in a few weeks, or if the redness is spreading or is characterized by painful cracked skin, it's a good idea to check in with your doctor.
"Unfortunately, jock itch can sometimes be confused for other conditions, which is why it's important to see a certified dermatologist," Radusky says. "The rashes of psoriasis, certain bacterial infections, and yeast look similar, and the treatments are quite different."
Your doctor can help confirm the diagnosis and sometimes provide better prescription remedies.
"These include a topical corticosteroid (such as hydrocortisone) to briefly quiet the inflammation to give quick symptom relief," Radusky says. "There are oral treatments, such as terbinafine (Lamisil), that do a great job at clearing the fungus."
How to Prevent Jock Itch
The best way to prevent jock itch is to shower immediately after working out and make sure you dry off as much as possible, or air dry with a hair dryer. You should wear loose-fitting cotton underwear and make a habit of switching up your workout gear.
"Avoiding non-cotton clothing can help," Rieder advises. "Sometimes the synthetic, sweat-wicking underwear can be hot and predispose guys to these infections."
Another small thing you can do to prevent jock itch? Put on your socks before putting on your underwear. The same fungus that causes athlete's foot also causes jock itch, and "the simple act of passing your underwear through your feet when you get dressed in the morning can pass that fungus up to your groin," Radusky says.
This story was originally published on Men's Health.