5 skin conditions you don’t want to bring home from the gym

Providence Health Team

Workout equipment at the local gym may be a breeding ground for fungi and bacteria.

You can avoid skin infection at the gym with a little planning and preparation.

There are a lot of common fungi and bacteria lurking on your favorite workout bench, weights and treadmill. But don’t let germy gymmates deter from your exercise routine; there are a few tricks you can keep up our sleeve to help keep your skin safe from infection. Fortunately, if you do happen to catch more than an endorphin rush at the fitness center, firstl-line treatments can be handled quickly and easily at home.

With a little preparation beforehand and a little extra care in the locker room, you can avoid skin infections like:

1. Ringworm
Though ringworm is shaped like a ring, it is not actually a worm that has crawled onto and into your skin (phew!). It is a fungal infection that causes a scaly, itchy, red ring to form on the surface of your skin. Though it can show up anywhere, it is most commonly found on the torso, upper arms or thighs. It thrives in warm, wet environments, so be wary of sweaty gym equipment as it could be lurking on the surface.

How to treat it:
Wash the infected area with warm soapy water. Pat dry and apply an over-the-counter cream, lotion or powder that contains an antifungal ingredient like clotrimazole. You may need to apply the antifungal for two to four weeks.

2. Athlete’s foot
Athlete’s foot can affect more than just the feet. In fact, this type of fungus is commonly found on the groin (aka jock itch), armpits and under the breasts. While you can get athlete’s foot by walking or showering in the gym locker room without shoes or flip-flops, they’re more likely to occur from unhygienic practices like wearing the same sweaty socks to exercise in several days in a row.

How to treat it:
Like ringworm on the skin, athlete’s foot can be treated by cleansing with an antibacterial soap and applying a non-prescription antifungal medication.

3. Staph infection
Staph infections are contagious and are caused by staphylococcus bacteria. These bacteria exists on the skin or in the nose normally; however, a cut, abrasion or other damage to the skin may encourage bacterial growth, which can overcome the natural protective oils on the skin and lead to infection. Wash your hands to avoid spreading germs to others, and remember to keep open wounds covered. Also, it’s okay to be stingy with your towels and say “No, thanks!” to public yoga mats to avoid exposure. Sharing is caring, but not at the gym.

How to treat it:
If you develop skin symptoms of a serious staph infection, like stubborn sores, boils or blisters, see a health care provider. Possible treatments includes drainage of the infected areas and antibiotics.

4. Folliculitis
Folliculitis is a type of bacterial or fungal infection that has been associated with use of swimming pools and hot tubs. The infection occurs when bacteria or fungi enter the hair follicles and cause inflammation. Rashes, bumps or pus-filled pimples are often found in hairy areas like your arms and legs. Use caution at the gym pool if your skin is extra dry or irritated due to shaving or sticky bandages.

How to treat it:
Wash the infected area with warm soapy water. Pat dry and apply an over-the-counter antibiotic or antifungal ointment directly on to the spot or spots. Antibiotics will work on bacterial infections but not on fungal infections; likewise, antifungals will not work on bacterial folliculitis. If there are no signs of improvement after a few days of at-home treatments, seek medical attention.

5. Plantar warts
Plantar warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), but it’s a different strain than the one that causes genital warts. When you have a plantar wart, you may experience pain while walking or applying pressure to the sole of your foot. They appear as callus-like spots on the heel, ball or sole of your foot. It may be speckled with tiny black dots, which are the result of dried blood vessels feeding the virus. To avoid them, keep your feet covered with sneakers or sandals at all times while using the gym and locker room. Also, if you have plantar warts, keep your feet covered in socks to avoid spreading them to friends and family, since the warts are contagious with HPV virus.

How to treat them:
First, soak your foot in warm water for five minutes to moisten the skin, which will help the medicine soak into the infected area. Next, slough off dead skin cells using a washcloth or pumice stone to help the medicine absorb into the infection. Carefully apply an over-the-counter or prescription-strength wart treatment which contains salicylic acid every day. Try covering plantar warts with duct tape and leaving it on for a week to help the medicine penetrate into the skin. If home remedies do not work, see your doctor.

How to protect your skin at the gym
The good news is, most fungus and bacteria lurking at the gym shouldn’t cause any issues as long as you’re diligent about a few key things. Take a step in the right direction to avoid athlete’s foot and other nasty skin conditions by following these simple steps:

Cover up cuts and scrapes.
Before your workout, be sure to clean and cover any cuts or scrapes to avoid contamination.

Maintain a barrier.
Whether by wearing long sleeves and pants or a towel, keep a layer of material between your skin and public gym equipment. Always wear something on your feet, especially in the locker room (e.g., flip-flops, shower shoes or street shoes).

Practice smart hygiene.
Wash your hands before and after working out (or use a hand sanitizer that is at least 60 percent alcohol). Use sprays or wipes to disinfect gym equipment before and after you use it.

'Look at Me' (Hand Hygiene):

Air out.
Promptly remove sweaty clothes, undergarments, socks, and shoes following a workout and stash them in a plastic bag separate from the rest of your gym bag belongings.

Clean up.
Make showering with warm soapy water a priority after exercising, using a hot tub or swimming pool. Unwashed sweaty skin can be a breeding ground for fungi.

Do your laundry.
Wash gym clothes as soon as possible, using the warmest temperature level listed on the clothing tag, following a workout to avoid the growth of any fungus or bacteria that may be lurking on them.

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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

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