What is jock itch?

Jock Itch Basics: It's a Jungle Down There
Those clothes need to go straight into the hamper -- or directly to the washing machine.
Those clothes need to go straight into the hamper -- or directly to the washing machine.

Jock itch is a fungal infection that often occurs right in the crease where your leg attaches to your lower abdomen. While most of the time your infection will be "home-grown," you can catch it from other people, too. Jock itch spreads from person to person through the sharing of towels, pants or undergarments, or through sexual contact. If you have athlete's foot, you can even spread it to yourself if your feet make contact with your undergarments or pants when you dress, spreading the fungal infection to your groin area.

Although anyone can get it, jock itch shows up most often on middle-aged men. People who are overweight or have diabetes and those with weak immune systems are also at increased risk of developing it.

Don't let the name of the condition slander the reputations of jocks -- jock itch gained its moniker because sweat is usually a primary culprit in its rampant fungal growth. Sweat washes away natural protective oils on your skin that normally keep the ever-present fungi in check. Excessive sweating also sets the stage for bacterial reproduction.

Other contributing factors include:

  • Rubbing from snug-fitting underwear
  • Skin-on-skin friction
  • Immune response from agitated skin
  • Heat and humidity

So what does jock itch look like? Sometimes, it may not look like anything at all. Jock itch can be very itchy -- even causing a burning sensation -- without the presence of a visible rash. However, it can worsen from continued friction with undergarments, as well as continued heat, humidity and direct moisture. Given enough time, you'll be able to see a red or pink rash. The rash may be in the form of near-perfect circles, and the area may be scaly-looking. Skin may crack or peel, and tiny bumps may form at the hair follicles.

You don't want to leave jock itch untreated, and you'll have a constant itchy reminder not to do so. If left untreated, jock itch can lead to all kinds of troubles, like ulcers, open sores, abscesses and cellulitis, a potentially life-threatening skin infection. If it spreads to the genitals, it can cause infection, especially in uncircumcised men. Women may develop yeast infections.

Got your attention? On the next page, we'll learn how to prevent this from happening in the first place, and how to get rid of jock itch before it turns an otherwise perfectly good groin bad.