General health

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Your Most Embarrassing Health Questions Answered


Pimples on your buttocks? Stinky feet? We answer 10 of your most embarrassing health questions

By Marta Debski 


1. I have pimples on my buttocks. How do I get rid of them?

Your buttocks are dense with hair follicles and, let’s be honest — for many of us, it’s a place we sweat excessively and experience a lot of friction (and wear tight clothes to accentuate our best assets). So, it’s not unusual to find blemishes, or folliculitis, on your backside. But don’t stress — less severe cases of folliculitis can clear up on their own or with some help from over-the-counter treatments. Try gently washing your derriere twice a day with antibacterial soap in addition to applying OTC acne treatments, like those that contain benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid, to the infected area. For dry, irritated skin, try lathering hydrocortisone cream where needed. If you find that your folliculitis returns despite your OTC efforts, you may need to make an appointment with your dermatologist to determine the severity of your case for proper, more effective treatment. In the meantime, wear looser-fitting pants to reduce friction and switch to more breathable fabrics, like cotton, for your undergarments.


2. My dandruff is so bad my shoulders are permanently covered in white flakes. How can I get my dry scalp under control?

It may be embarrassing, but don’t stress out about your dandruff too much; it’s actually a pretty common condition. Milder cases can be caused by simple things, like dry or oily skin, or simply not shampooing enough. In other cases, dandruff may be caused by seborrheic dermatitis, psoriasis, eczema or malassezia (a yeast-like fungus). For the more mild cases, use a gentle shampoo daily to help get rid of oil and skin buildup. If that doesn’t do the trick, move on to a stronger over-the-counter dandruff shampoo to help fight the flakes. Remember, different dandruff shampoos contain different medications, so make sure to read the labels and use the trial-and-error method to see which one works for you. If shampooing doesn’t do the trick for you, consult your dermatologist.

Warning: If you develop itching or burning from any of the OTC shampoos, discontinue use. If you have an allergic reaction, immediately contact a physician.


3. What happens if I forget to take my tampon out?

“Tampons should probably not be used for longer than eight hours,” says Elaine Brown, MD, an ob/gyn in Billings, Montana and MedHelp’s Gynecology and Women’s Health forum expert. If you leave a tampon in for longer than that, Brown says, you’ll most likely notice an unpleasant odor or discharge. However, you could also develop a vaginal infection, which will cause itching and burning. If this happens, schedule a visit with your doctor so he or she can diagnose and treat the issue.

“If you want to try the DIY method, purchase a vaginal pH detector from the store and check the pH of the secretions,” says Brown. “If the pH is abnormally high, then the infection is probably bacterial vaginosis (BV), which can be treated with antibiotics prescribed by your health care provider. If the pH is normal or low, it is likely to be a yeast infection, and you can try one of the over-the-counter yeast preparation.” If symptoms don’t improve, change or worsen, be sure to see your doctor for an examination.


4. My pee stinks! Is something wrong?

Urine does not usually have a strong smell; temporary changes in odor can occur, but they are not necessarily cause for concern. For example, certain vitamins, medications and foods (did someone say asparagus?) can conjure up quite a stench without raising any red flags.

However, sometimes urine odor does signal a medical problem. E. coli, a bacteria that can live harmlessly in the human intestinal tract, can cause an infection if it gets into the urinary tract. A urinary tract infection (UTI) can turn your urine cloudy and cause an odor; other symptoms include the urge to urinate frequently, pain or burning during urination or abdominal pain. If you experience any of these symptoms, contact your health provider immediately — if a UTI is left untreated, it can travel to the kidneys and cause an even worse infection.


5. Sometimes when I have a bowel movement, my stool color changes. What causes this?

Just like the color of your urine, the color of your stool can change based on what you’re eating, or any medications or vitamins you may be taking. For instance, a greenish-colored stool could be the result of an uptick in leafy greens in your diet; eating beets can cause your stool to take on a red tinge; and taking iron supplements can turn your stool a dark brown, almost black color. If you notice your stool is an unusual color, try to think back on what you’ve ingested recently. However, if you feel there is reason to be concerned about the color of your stool, or if your stool is bright red or tarry black (this could indicate the presence of blood), seek medical attention immediately.


6. I have terrible breath all day long. What can I do to get my mouth smelling minty fresh again?

You are what you eat — or rather, your breath is. Halitosis, or bad breath, is often caused by strong smelling foods, like garlic or onions. As food is absorbed into the bloodstream, it’s carried into the lungs and eventually expelled in your breath, until the food has been eliminated from your body.

In addition to taking a long look at your diet, make sure you are brushing your teeth (and your tongue!) twice a day and flossing at least once a day, too. Food particles that remain in the mouth are a magnet for odor-causing bacteria. Still need an extra breath-freshening boost? Swirl and swish some mouthwash that contains cetylpyridinium chloride, which works to kill or prevent the growth of bad breath-causing bacteria while fighting against diseases like gingivitis.

If changing your diet and being diligent about your dental hygiene don’t improve your breath, consult your dentist.


7. When my partner and I use a condom during sex, I break out in a rash “down there.” Am I allergic to condoms?

If you experience any itching, burning, breakouts or swelling in your nether regions after you have sex, you should let your health provider know; if it is not a latex allergy, it could be something more serious, like a sexually transmitted infection that may need immediate medical attention.

If you are allergic to latex, you should make sure to avoid birth control methods that include latex and opt instead for plastic condoms (male or female condoms) or oral contraceptives. But remember: oral contraceptives do not protect against sexually transmitted infections. Your doctor can help you choose a birth control method that also keeps your protected from STIs.


8. When I take my shoes off, my foot odor fills the room. How can I remedy this?

When your feet sweat, they create an optimal environment for foul-smelling bacteria. Want to keep your feet dry (and odor-free)? Start by giving them a little extra attention when you step out of the shower. Make sure you towel off each toe individually to soak up any extra moisture. Then, try rubbing antiperspirant between your toes and on the bottoms of your feet, followed by a dash or two of antifungal powder.

You can also try choosing cotton blend or wool socks, which help absorb moisture, and remember to change your socks often, drying your feet thoroughly each time. If you sweat in a certain pair of shoes, try not to wear that pair two days in a row. And give your feet a chance to breathe; go barefoot when you can, or slip out of your shoes now and then throughout the day.


9. I have a white discharge in my underwear at the end of the day. Is this normal?

Most women experience some type of vaginal discharge; some women have it daily while others experience it only one in a while. Made from cells and fluid in the uterus and the vagina, discharge is a healthy — and completely normal — way for the vagina to protect and clean itself.

Every woman’s discharge is different, and the amount, color or consistency may vary from white and sticky to clear and watery depending on the stage of your menstrual cycle.

However, if there is more discharge than usual, a change in color (green or yellow), a strong odor or you feel itching or pain in the pelvic area, around the vagina or during intercourse, it’s possible you may have an infection. This could be a sign of a yeast infection.  While yeast infections are not sexually transmitted infections, some men can develop itching or a rash on the penis after sexual relations with an infected partner, according to the National Institute of Health. Contact your health provider for a pelvic exam and possible treatment.


10. I have a flaky, yellow toenail. How can I treat it and make sure it doesn’t spread to the other toenails?

Almost 20 percent of the population is affected by toenail fungus, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Bacteria are attracted to your feet, especially, because your toenails are confined inside your socks and shoes — a dark, moist environment where fungi thrive.

If you suspect you have toenail fungus, schedule an appointment with your podiatrist or dermatologist. Together, the two of you can determine the best course of treatment. Possible treatments for toenail fungus include oral antibiotics, removal of the diseased nail and any surrounding affected areas, or oral antifungals, which can take up to 12 months to be effective.

To prevent toenail fungus infections, aim to keep your feet as clean and dry as possible. Wash them with soap and water daily and dry them off after leaving the shower; change your socks and shoes daily; clip your toenails straight across so they do not extend past the tip of the toe; wear properly fitting shoes; and refrain from walking around barefoot.


Marta Debski is a runner, health enthusiast and proud Wolverine.

Published August 14, 2012. 


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