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From weekend warriors to pros, athletes are plagued by skin disorders



– Think beyond the foot: Fungal infections are just the beginning when it comes to skin disorders in athletes, which include ringworm in wrestlers, “jogger’s nipple” in runners, and more serious conditions – like skin cancer.

“Skin ailments are some of the most common conditions of athletes,” affecting all levels of sports enthusiasts, “from weekend warriors to professional athletes,” said Brian B. Adams, MD, MPH, professor and chair of the department of dermatology at the University of Cincinnati.

Dr. Adams, who is also head of the dermatology department’s sports dermatology clinic and author of the book “Sports Dermatology” (Springer, 2006), spoke about skin issues affecting athletes in a presentation at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology.

In an interview, he discussed specific risks for athletes, the scarcity of data on skin cancer in athletes, and the hazards posed by cotton clothing.

Skin cancer: Risk seems clear, but data are sparse

“Athletes in general appear to be at increased risk in the long term for skin cancer” since they often play and practice during the hours between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the danger of sun exposure is at its highest, he said. In addition, “sweating removes the sunscreen that athletes put on, and there is evidence that sweating actually increases the chance of burning,” he said.

Skiers and snowboarders face unique sun exposure risks, he added. “Snow reflects up to 100% of UV, so even though they may be in shade, they experience UV. And mountain athletes experience greater amounts of UV as the altitude of the mountain increases: At higher altitudes, the atmosphere has less chance of filtering out the damaging rays.”

While it’s obvious that many athletes face extra sun exposure, Dr. Adams pointed out, “very little is definitively known about the actual degree of risk of athletic activities.”

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