For Olympians, Tough Skin is Necessary

Treating rashes calluses or blisters or conditions such as skin cancers and infectious skin diseases

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Olympic athletes train to be the most mentally and physically tough competitors in their event. But for many, an unexpected condition can threaten a hard earned chance at success.

Hype over the 2012 Olympics has brought an age-old issue to the attention of both the public and medical professionals for the first time.

Infectious and irritating skin issues continue to wreak havoc on athletes going for the gold. A new study reveals just how disastrous skin problems can be for athletes.

"Wear sunscreen for all outdoor activities."

Although Olympic athletes have some of the toughest and fittest bodies in the world, various skin problems continue to affect their health in potentially devastating ways.

Jacqueline F. De Luca, MD, and former Olympic water polo player, shed light on this issue. During a research fellowship at Wake Forest Baptist under the guidance of dermatologist Gil Yosipovitch, Dr. De Luca reviewed available medical and sports literature only to find that little has been published on an issue that virtually every athlete has to deal with.

Despite the widespread prevalence of such issues, Dr. De Luca revealed that, "Dermatological conditions are an increasing cause of medical problems for Olympic athletes and can be harmful and even prohibitive for competition, but our review did not find a wealth of medical literature in this area."

Why does it matter?

Most athletes develop common skin conditions, so why can't physicians refer to general dermatology literature.

Dr. De Luca explains that the lack of knowledge on the topic puts athletes -- as well as their physicians -- who contract rarer, specifically sports-related skin conditions, at risk for misdiagnosis and unnecessary procedures.

Accordingly, Dr. De Luca contends that an early diagnosis is extremely necessary in order for athletes to be able to participate and compete at their full potential.

The research team considered skin conditions by looking at general categories of Olympic sport: "endurance (marathon runners, triathletes, cyclists, long-distance swimmers), resistance (boxing, judo, weight lifting, wrestling), team sport (basketball, beach volleyball, tennis, soccer, water polo), and performing arts (diving, gymnastics, synchronized swimming)."

Athletes participating in the summer games are especially at risk for all sorts of skin ailments due to the harsh sun and heat.

Brian Adams, MD, co-author of the study, runs a dermatology clinic for athletes at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, and has seen it all from, "the easy-to-treat rashes, calluses or blisters, to the more severe and complex conditions such as skin cancers and infectious skin diseases."

He explains that some infectious skin diseases can spread among a team members, effectively disrupting the entire team's performance potential. Because of his extensive work, Dr. Adams was commissioned by the International Olympic Committee to contribute to its sports textbook, The Olympic Textbook of Medicine in Sport.

Most importantly, Dr. Adams revealed that the risk of skin conditions is important even outside of the Olympics, "The extreme nature of their training, and their constant environmental exposures to heat, sweat, trauma, sun and other factors, can lead to health issues that affect their performance ability. That's true for all athletes,"

Dr. Adams said. Ultimately the message of the study is this: "The upcoming summer Olympics is a great opportunity to highlight the skin issues that can afflict athletes everywhere."

The article summarizing the research team's findings was published in the April issue of the Sports Journal.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
July 10, 2012
Last Updated:
January 2, 2013