Chaffing: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Prevention & Treatments

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Chaffing stands for the irritation of the skin caused by the repetitive friction, it is usually generated because of the skin to skin contact of different body parts. Chaffing usually takes place in inner glutes and inner thighs. Nipples and armpits can also develop chaffing but it is not as common. Hot weather is the high-risk time for chaffing due to sweating but chafing also occurs during cold or dry weather. Salt crystals form when sweat evaporates, adding grit that can cause more friction and chafing. Severe chaffing is known as friction burns.

A friction burn is both a heat burn and an abrasion caused by the friction of the skin rubbing against any surface. A friction burn is also referred to as skinning. As friction generates heat, severe cases of chaffing might result in actual burning of the uppermost layers of the skin. The dermal papillae might be exposed after the top layers of the dermis are burned. This is uncomfortable and highly painful for the individual, it also results in bleeding in rare cases. An individual’s own skin is sufficient to act as an abrasive surface to result in friction burns.

Other common abrasive surfaces that cause friction burns include carpets, clothing and ropes. Friction burn is most common with clothing such as trousers on the knees. Friction burn also occurs frequently while playing sports or sliding on wooden floors. Less dangerous friction burns may frequently occur in the sensitive skin areas such as the genitals during sexual intercourse or masturbation. The risks of friction burn also include temporary or permanent scarring and infections. Minor cases of friction burn do not require any treatment as it can lead to very specific allergies to take place.

The most common treatment for friction involves the use of anti-inflammatory cream. Pain relievers and relaxants may also be used. Friction burns are the most common types of burn-in bike and motorcycle accidents. Chaffing and friction burn result in a first degree or second-degree burns on the skin. Chaffing also results in swelling and crusting of the skin. Repetitive rubbing of the skin combined with the moisture in the body make skin vulnerable to breaking. The chaffed area will be red, raw and tender.

Symptoms of Chaffing:

Chaffing causes irritation to the skin due to the friction. It usually takes place in the armpits, inner thighs and inner glutes. It causes swelling, crusting and in many rare cases, it also results in bleeding. As friction results in the generation of heat, severe cases of chaffing also result in burning of the uppermost layer of the skin exposing the dermal papillae which can cause a lot of pain and discomfort to the individual. Severe cases of chaffing result in friction burns which may cause an infection and temporary or permanent scarring on the skin. The friction burns lead to first-degree burns or second-degree burns. Chaffing can also occur on the nipples and groins due to friction with the clothing. Chaffing of nipples, groins and feet can also take place in rare cases.

Causes of Chaffing:

The main cause for chaffing is friction of the skin rubbing against abrasive surfaces. The skin of other body parts itself acts as an abrasive surface. Repetitive rubbing of the skin combined with the moisture in the body make skin vulnerable to chaffing. Like every other body parts, the skin cells also have their limit before they break down due to overwork. The skin needs to have a certain amount of body lotion or body oil to prevent chaffing or friction burns. The causes of chaffing are as follows:

  • Endurance sports: Endurance sports such as running and biking can cause chaffing, other activities that cause sweat and movement of the body can also cause chaffing. Athletes that run around or move around for long periods of time can chafe in the areas the clothing rubs against their skin. Jogging and cross-fit can also result in mild cases of chaffing. This is why most sports clothing is skin fit so it does not rub against the skin due to motions of the body.
  • Excessive fat: If an individual has any sagging skin or rolls of fat they may develop chaffing in the folds where skin rubs on the skin and it gets moist due to sweat. The individual will have extra friction in those areas when they exercise due to repetitive motion, leading to chaffing. However, A person can be trim and toned and still need to take measures to prevent chafing.
  • Salt Crystals: Salt crystals caused due to drying of sweat add grit to the skin that causes more friction and chaffing.
  • Diapers: The children and those adults who require the use of diaper can also develop chaffing on their bottom. Exposure to the faeces or urine without enough flow of air for a long period of times can cause the problem.
  • Ill-fitted clothes: Clothes that do not fit properly rub on the skin more often than the ones with a perfect fit. Bra straps, sleeves, waistbands and even shoes and sandals can cause chaffing if they rub against the skin in an irritating manner.
  • Breastfeeding: Nursing and breastfeeding the baby can cause chaffing of the nipples in mothers.
  • Abrasive surfaces: Rubbing of skin on abrasive surfaces such as a rope or a carpet can severe chaffing or friction burns. Sliding on wooden floors or grass can also cause breaking of skin cells.
  • Sexual Intercourse: Groin chaffing can be caused due to sexual intercourse or due to masturbation.
  • Dirty skin: Unclean skin can also cause chaffing in parts like the armpits and behind the knees. It is advised to wash the body clean with
  • Tight clothing: Tight shirts or other clothing items can cause chaffing as well. Tight tops can cause nipple chaffing. Even bags and backpacks with tight straps can cause chaffing on the body of the individual. Tight shoes and socks can cause chaffing on the feet and soles because they restrict air flow.

Treatment of Chaffing:

If the individual feels like the chafing began during the workout. They shouldclean the region with water and a mild soap, dry the area, and apply a bandage to the area at the earliest. If they must keep on with the activity, they should use a lubricant such as petroleum jelly to prevent any further damage. They should try adjusting their straps of the garments or the garment itself so it does not rub against the chafed area. Changing into dry and clean clothing if available is recommended. If the activity still causes chaffing, they might want to stop or change to an activity that does not make the area rub against the gear or garments.

Once an individual is chafed, they should treat the affected area like they would treat an open wound. Begin with washing and cleaning the chafed region with a mild soap and lukewarm water. This will cause the area to sting, the individual may as well realise that they are chafed when they take a shower or a bath and feel the stinging sensation or the pain. It is suggested to not use hydrogen peroxide or rubbing alcohol on the chafed skin. Dry off the area gently and avoid rubbing the area. The doctors will suggest covering the affected region with a gauze pad, this will allow the chafed skin to breathe during the recovery. The individual can also apply a layer of Vaseline or any other petroleum jelly, this will protect the chafed skin. Only use an antibiotic ointment or creams on an area that shows symptoms and sign of infection, if there is no infection refrain from using any antibiotic creams or ointments.

The chafe marks will scab and crust over in a few days and the crust will fall away naturally in a week or two. The skin gets tender and should be protected from any further abrasion for a few weeks. The tender skin should also be protected from the exposure to the sun if it occurred in such area. The individual might also need to take some break from the activity which caused the chaffing or to switch to gear or garments that won’t rub against the chafed area. The individual should also consult a healthcare or a skin specialist to check if there are any signals of the development of infection or if the individual has diabetes or if the individual’s skin is not showing any signs of healing. The individual may be advised by the doctor using an antibiotic ointment. For an infection that is spreading, the individual may be prescribed an oral antibiotic.

Prevention from Chaffing:

Preventing chaffing is a relatively easier task than treating it. Preventing chaffing does require a lot of time and attention. While preventing chaffing completely may not be possible if an individual is regularly taking a part in the activities that can result in chaffing, following these steps can help reduce the chances of chaffing occurring. The methods to prevent chaffing from occurring are as follows:

  • Deodorants: Deodorants and other antiperspirants can help in preventing chaffing. Deodorants often contain the moisture to protect an individual’s skin. If the individual has an area that is prone to chaffing or if they are going to take part in an activity that might cause chaffing, they can apply a small layer of deodorant on that area before beginning. The individual should use a deodorant that is not scented if they are sensitive to them as perfumes are added to these deodorants. Deodorant also helps the skin in areas like armpits and inner thighs in staying dry to prevent chaffing from occurring.
  • Lubricants: Walkers, runners, and cyclists use a variety ofanti-chafing lubricantsto keep the skin areas sliding past each other instead of rubbing each other raw. Plain old petroleum jelly is the most common choice. The runners can apply it liberally before starting their workout. Sports stores have lubricants that are formulated to help prevent chafing during exercise. There are many hand creams that can be useful in chafing prevention. It is easy to find oils or creams that can help in lubrication at homes. Other traditional ointments include Bag Balm and Udder Cream, developed for dairy cows, which are available at the local feed shop or pet store.
  • Clothing: Loose clothes feel good and are comfortable to work out in, but to prevent chafing clothes with perfect fitting are required.Bike shortsor compression shorts are designed to give a skin-tight fit that will prevent chafing for the lower body or thigh area. For the upper body spandex tops, orcompression garmentswick the moisture and let the body breathe. The clothes should be made of sweat and moisture wicking fabrics. Clothing that is seamless or has flat seams for the areas that are prone to chafing is the best for workouts.
  • Hydration: Drinking lots of water before, during and after a workout is suggested. This allows the body to perspire a lot so that the sweat does not dry to create salt crystals that can cause chaffing.
  • Staying dry: Change wet clothes if you are done with swimming so that the tight wet fabric does not rub against the skin. Changing clothes, cleaning and drying yourself after a workout should be done after any type of workout. Nowadays many sports brands including big brand names such as Nike, Adidas and Puma have specially formulated clothing for sports that keep the players dry by soaking up the moisture. Another method to keep yourself dry during a workout is to use an absorbent powder in the areas your skin has crevices such as crotch or armpits. These powders are said to cause ovarian cancer and uterine cancer so it is suggested you don’t apply in the genital area. Instead, apply potato starch or cornstarch to stay dry. Look for unscented powders if you are sensitive to the smell, perfumes are often added to these products. Carry a hand towel with you to dry off the sweat after the workout.

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