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Jock Itch

What Is It, Symptoms, Treatment, and More

Author: Anna Hernández, MD

Editors: Ahaana Singh, Kelsey LaFayette, BAN, RN 

Illustrator: Abbey Richard

Copyeditor: Joy Mapes


What is jock itch?

Jock itch, also known as tinea cruris, refers to a fungal infection that primarily affects the skin in the groin area. It commonly affects athletes and people who sweat a lot, but anyone can develop the infection. Although jock itch can be bothersome for some individuals, it is not a serious condition and can often be resolved with antifungal creams and certain preventive measures. However, if not treated properly, jock itch may last for weeks or months at a time. 

Jock itch belongs to a wider group of superficial skin infections called tineas, which can be distinguished from one another by the area of the body affected. In addition to jock itch, other tinea infections include tinea pedis (i.e., athlete’s foot), which affects the feet; tinea corporis (i.e., ringworm), which affects the arms, trunk, and legs; and tinea unguium, which affects the nails; among many others. 

What causes jock itch?

Jock itch is caused by dermatophytes, a group of fungi that require keratin for growth. Keratin is a family of structural proteins found in the outermost layers of the skin, hair, and nails. Usually, the dryness and shedding of the outermost layer of the skin keep the fungi from thriving and growing out of control. However, conditions that make the skin a warm, moist environment, like trapped sweat or wet clothing, allow dermatophytes to grow and flourish, resulting in a superficial skin infection

Risk factors for developing jock itch include wearing tight clothes, remaining in wet garments (e.g., bathing suits, sweaty workout clothes), sharing clothes or towels with others, and not drying the skin well after showering or swimming. In addition, individuals who are overweight, have diabetes, or have a decreased immune response are also more likely to develop jock itch.

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Is jock itch contagious?

Yes, jock itch is a contagious infection that can be spread through direct skin-to-skin contact with someone who has the infection or, more rarely, through contact with an infected animal. Often, jock itch originates with a tinea infection affecting another part of the body, usually athlete’s foot, that then spreads to the groin area via contact with the infected body area or an object that has touched both areas. Additionally, jock itch can be spread through contact with unwashed personal objects, such as towels, bathing suits, or underwear garments, like jockstraps (i.e., athletic supporters). 

What are the signs and symptoms of jock itch?

Jock itch presents with an itchy rash that typically affects warm, moist areas, like the skin folds of the  groin and genital area, armpits, and under the breasts. The rash patches have a characteristic ring-like pattern, with red, slightly-raised borders and a central clearing. Common symptoms of jock itch include discomfort, itching, or a burning sensation in the affected area. In some cases, it can also lead to flaking, peeling, or crackling of the skin around the groin, upper thighs, and buttocks. 

How is jock itch diagnosed?

Jock itch is often diagnosed clinically, based on the characteristic appearance and location of the skin rash. If jock itch is suspected, a physician may inquire about any predisposing risk factors, such as wardrobe and hygiene practices. Although rarely necessary, the diagnosis can be confirmed by detecting the fungi under a microscope or through fungal cultures. A Wood’s lamp exam, which uses a fluorescent light to illuminate the skin, may also be helpful to distinguish jock itch from similar skin conditions. Other conditions that present similarly to jock itch are different fungal infections, such as those caused by Candida albicans; bacterial infections, such as erythrasma; psoriasis; and seborrheic dermatitis.

How is jock itch treated?

Most cases of jock itch can be treated with over-the-counter (OTC) antifungal creams, such as those containing clotrimazole or miconazole. Since jock itch is commonly acquired through a tinea infection affecting another part of the body, treatment should ensure that all tinea infections (e.g., athlete’s foot) are resolved to prevent recurrences. Typically, jock itch does not require systemic treatment; in severe cases, or if the infection does not resolve within 4 weeks of topical treatment, oral antifungal medications may be prescribed. With adequate treatment, most cases of jock itch resolve within 2 to 4 weeks. 

Regarding prevention, several measures can be taken to prevent recurrence of jock itch over time, such as wearing loose clothing made of breathable materials, keeping the groin area clean and dry, and avoiding sharing towels or clothes with other people. Individuals with athlete’s foot may be advised to put their socks on before any other clothing in order to prevent the spread of the infection to the groin area.

What are the most important facts to know about jock itch?

Jock itch, also known as tinea cruris, is a fungal infection that causes an itchy rash in the groin area. Like all tinea infections, jock itch is caused by dermatophytes, a group of fungi that thrive in warm, moist areas. Normally, dermatophytes do not cause skin infections, but in moist conditions produced by significant sweat or tight clothing, the fungi can thrive, and skin infection may occur. Jock itch causes an itchy rash with red, scaly borders that can spread onto the upper thighs and buttocks. In most cases, jock itch is diagnosed by clinical observation of the characteristic skin rash, rarely requiring any additional diagnostic tests. Treatment of jock itch includes antifungal agents and preventive measures, including keeping the groin area clean and dry, wearing loose clothing, and avoiding sharing clothes or towels with others.

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Resources for research and reference

Al-Janabi, A., & Al-Khikani, F. (2020). Dermatophytoses: A short definition, pathogenesis, and treatment. International Journal of Health & Allied Sciences, 9(3): 210-214. DOI: 10.4103/ijhas.IJHAS_123_19

Goldstein, A., & Goldstein, B. (2020). Dermatophyte (tinea) infections. In UpToDate. Retrieved March 1, 2021, from https://www.uptodate.com/contents/dermatophyte-tinea-infections 

Hainer, B. (2003). Dermatophyte infections. American Family Physician, 67(1): 101–109. Retrieved from https://www.aafp.org/afp/2003/0101/p101.html

Hayette, M.-P., & Sacheli, R. (2015). Dermatophytosis, trends in epidemiology and diagnostic approach. Current Fungal Infection Reports, 9(3): 164–179. DOI: 10.1007/s12281-015-0231-4