HealthAgenda

Physical Health

Health issues you’ve always wanted to ask about

Although they may be common concerns, it’s understandable to wonder if some of your body issues are normal – from excessive farting to erectile dysfunction. 

Stephanie Osfield 
March 2019

We all experience health issues that may be uncomfortable to talk about, but that shouldn’t mean you ignore them or tough them out. The right treatments may be able to help you get these common symptoms under control.

Farting

What’s normal: Gas production in the bowel happens for a number of reasons. Bacteria in the intestines fermenting some of the food we eat is just one example. Everyone tends to pass wind from time to time as a normal part of digestion. 

What to try: If you’re self-conscious about farting, you could try cutting down on foods known to cause gas, including:

  • beans
  • Brussels sprouts
  • cabbage
  • chickpeas
  • dried fruit
  • onions
  • peas.

When to see your GP: “Excess wind or foul-smelling flatulence may be due to a range of different medical problems including bacterial infection, Crohn’s disease, coeliac disease and obstruction of the intestines due to a growth,” says Dr Chris Zappala, vice president of the Australian Medical Association.

See your GP if your flatulence is suddenly different than usual or if it’s causing you great discomfort or distress. Your doctor may suggest tests (e.g. colonoscopy) or refer you to a gastroenterologist or dietitian.

Sweating

What’s normal: Sweating helps regulate body temperature. We all sweat a small amount every day, but may sweat much more during high-intensity exercise.

What to try: If you’re concerned about underarm sweat use an antiperspirant. Drink water to stay hydrated. Choose breathable fabrics like cotton rather than synthetics like polyester.

When to see your GP: About 3 in every 100 Australians have excessive sweating.

In some people too much or too little perspiration may indicate health problems. “If sweating is absent this can sometimes be due to issues such as autoimmune or hormonal disease,” says Dr Zappala. 

For excessive sweating your doctor may suggest treatments including medications, Botox and laser therapy. They may also refer you to a dermatologist.

Erectile dysfunction

What’s normal: Around 1 in 5 Australian men over the age of 40 has erectile problems. Occasional erectile dysfunction (ED) is common and could be due to alcohol, tiredness or anxiety.

“It may also occur more with age, which may be in part due to changes in muscle tone and blood flow to the genitals,” says Dr Zappala.

What to try: Exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet, including cutting back on alcohol. If you cycle regularly, read up on the best saddle position as cycling can cause compression of nerves, which may affect erectile function. If it’s causing or could be due to anxiety or depression, counselling may help.

When to see your GP: If you have ongoing ED, see your doctor. They’ll help you to “rule out underlying causes, ranging from diabetes and thyroid disease to atherosclerosis [narrowing of the arteries] and prostate problems,” says Dr Zappala.

Your doctor may suggest reatments like medications or injections. If you have a health condition that might be contributing to your ED, like depression, high cholesterol or high blood pressure, they’ll factor that into your treatment plan.

Dandruff

What’s normal: A small amount of flaky dry skin and an itchy scalp are common. And while the cause of dandruff is unknown, it’s more common in people with sensitive or dry skin. It can be worse in winter when skin is particularly dry or when you’re stressed.

What to try: Over-the-counter medicated dandruff shampoo can often help to remove excess dry skin. “These help address issues that can contribute to dandruff such as fungal infections,” says Dr Zappala. 

When to see your GP: If simple, over-the-counter products don’t help, or if your symptoms get worse, see your doctor. “Excess flakiness and itching, and a very red, swollen or sore scalp, may be a sign of a skin infection or issues like seborrheic dermatitis, eczema or psoriasis,” says Dr Zappala.

Bad breath

What’s normal: It’s normal to have a little bad breath in the morning, but that usually goes after brushing. “‘Normal’ breath shouldn’t be noticeable when you’re at talking distance to another person,” says Peter Chuang, dentist and member of the oral health committee for the Australian Dental Association.

But poor dental hygiene, teeth cavities, dry mouth, smoking, acid reflux, food trapped in orthodontic braces and foods like onions and garlic can all cause bad breath.

“To test your breath swipe your tongue with a cotton bud and smell it,” says Chuang.

What to try: To avoid bad breath, the Australian Dental Association recommends you brush your teeth twice, and floss at least once, daily. 

It may also help to “clean your tongue with a tongue scraper and use small interdental gum brushes between your teeth to remove trapped food which can contribute to bad breath”, says Chuang.

Drink water regularly to avoid dehydration, as a dry mouth can allow bacteria to grow that cause bad breath. 

When to see your dentist: See your dentist “if your bad breath becomes chronic, or your tongue appears white, yellow or brown”, says Chuang.

Get your teeth cleaned every 6 months by your dentist or dental hygienist to remove tartar that can’t be brushed off and can accumulate over time.

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