1. My husband claims he can’t control his loud, frequent belches. Should he see a doctor?
Rafter-rattling burps can be a sign of acid reflux or even an infection with the ulcer-causing bacterium Helicobacter pylori. But it’s more likely that your spouse is simply swallowing more air than he realizes. We suck in about a teaspoonful with every swallow; body heat makes the extra air expand in our stomachs, creating the perfect set-up for an explosive belch. Gum chewing, sucking on hard candy, smoking, drinking carbonated beverages, gulping down food and beverages, and even things like excess saliva generated by poorly fitted dentures and sinus drainage (due to an infection or allergy) can lead to an excessive intake of air. Try to correct those problems first. If belching continues, your husband may need relief for reflux or an H. pylori infection, especially if he also has abdominal discomfort, indigestion, a bloated feeling, or frequent, mild nausea.
2. Nothing I do — brushing, flossing, mouthwash — gets rid of my bad breath. What will work?
Brush your tongue or clean it with a tongue scraper. Bad breath usually means bacteria are munching on food residue in your mouth, then emitting nasty-smelling sulfur compounds. Cleaning the tongue removes the film of microscopic food particles and also evicts some of those ill-mannered microbes before they can gas again. In one New York University study, people who brushed their teeth and tongues twice daily for 60 seconds had a 53 percent reduction in breath-souring sulfur compounds after 2 weeks.
Rinsing with a mouthwash containing a germ-fighting ingredient, such as chlorhexidine, cetylpyridinium chloride, zinc lactate, or chlorine dioxide, is also effective. If these strategies don’t work, check your dinner plate: Garlic and onions contain odoriferous oils which, when digested, wind up in your bloodstream; they’re released in your lungs and can sour your breath for up to 3 days.
Talk with your doctor or dentist if nothing seems to help. Stubborn bad breath can be a symptom of advanced gum disease, dry mouth, a sinus infection, tonsillitis, cryptic tonsillitis (when white debris collects in pockets in the tonsils), acid reflux, or a gastrointestinal or respiratory infection.
3. Nothing helps my BO. Am I doomed to stink?
Stubborn body odor can be caused by bacteria that live on your sweat, by the foods you eat, even by your emotions. Start by washing your armpits — and a wide area around them — with antibacterial soap twice a day. If BO returns during the day, clean up again with alcohol wipes — portable, individually wrapped alcohol-drenched pads. After you wash up, apply a clinical strength antiperspirant/deodorant; these contain higher concentrations of sweat-inhibiting aluminum compounds, plus ingredients that make your skin more acidic, discouraging bacteria. Also apply it after bathing at night to keep the pores of your sweat glands closed. Keeping underarms shaved also helps discourage bacteria.
Wear loose, natural-fiber shirts that allow sweat to dry; a moist environment encourages bacteria to grow. Check your diet, too. Garlic, onions, chili peppers, black pepper, vinegar, blue cheese, cabbage, radishes, and marinated fish can all make BO stronger. In one study from Czechoslovakia, so did red meat.
If BO persists, talk to your doctor. She can rule out medical causes such as hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating) as well as an abscess under your arm. While you’re there, ask about a prescription antibiotic cream containing clindamycin (such as Cleocin) or erythromycin (such as E-Mycin, Erythrocin, or Ilosone) to fight underarm bacteria.
If your problem is excess sweating, another option is a drug containing oxybutynin (Ditropan) or glycopyrrolate (Robinul). These drugs are normally used for other purposes but have the side effect of drying up sweat. Unfortunately, they dry up all sorts of other secretions, too, and can have side effects including dry mouth and vaginal dryness.
Another solution is botox. Injections of this toxin stop nerve impulses that trigger overproduction of sweat. In one study, botox reduced sweat production by up to 70 percent. You may need repeat injections to keep your shirts dry, however.
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4. I had a painful, embarrassing boil. How can I prevent another one?
A boil is a hair follicle that’s become infected with the highly contagious Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. These “staph” bugs live on the surface of human skin and even in our respiratory systems. Normally, the immune system keeps them in check. You can’t wipe them out, but there’s plenty you can do to prevent their spread.
- Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly with soap and water, and use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer gel when you can’t get to a sink.
- Bathe or shower daily and after using a hot tub, a swimming pool, a sauna, or a steam room. Use a mild antibacterial soap and clean towels and washcloths.
- Don’t use oils, oily moisturizers, or greasy sunscreen — they can trap bacteria. Opt for oil-free lotions and sunscreens instead.
- If boils return in an area that you shave, use a clean razor blade every time you shave. That means replacing the blade or soaking it in alcohol before reuse. Or opt for a hair-removal cream instead.
- Rinse scrapes and cuts, apply an antibiotic ointment, and keep them covered with clean bandages until healed.
- Don’t share razors, towels, clothes, or athletic equipment (at the gym, use germ-killing cleaner on equipment seats and handles).
- Avoid using powder in those areas that seem to build up sweat. The powder holds onto moisture, which breeds bacteria.
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5. When I wear a dark shirt, there’s a snowstorm on my shoulders. What will get rid of serious dandruff?
Start with a new shampoo, something mild; overenthusiastic washing simply may have dried out your scalp. If dandruff persists, use trial and error to find the right flake-fighter. Dandruff may be the result of anything from a desert-dry scalp to a skin condition called seborrheic dermatitis to eczema, psoriasis, or, very commonly, an overgrowth of a yeastlike fungus called malassezia. Different dandruff shampoo ingredients do different things. Zinc pyrithione targets fungus and bacteria; ketoconazole also fights fungus; coal tar and selenium sulfide slow the growth and die-off of skin cells on your scalp; salicylic acid loosens flakes so they can be washed away. If one doesn’t work, buy two or three different types and alternate between them.
Still flaky? If nothing’s helped after a few weeks of shampooing with various formulas or if your scalp is irritated, see your doctor. She may prescribe a prescription-strength dandruff shampoo or another treatment if a skin condition like seborrheic dermatitis, eczema, or psoriasis is the real cause.
6. My feet stink so much that I’m afraid to take my shoes off in public. What will stop the odor?
Beating “toxic sock syndrome” involves keeping your feet as well as your shoes and socks clean, dry, and bacteria-free. Controlling moisture is crucial; your feet have more sweat glands than any other body part, with the exception of the palms of your hands. Trapped in footwear for hours on end, sweat builds; bacteria feed on a protein in sweat and emit stinky isovaleric acid.
For drier feet, change your socks at least once a day, wear shoes made from natural, breathable materials such as leather or canvas, and let shoes air out for at least a day before you wear them again. Knock out bacteria by washing your feet every day (some foot doctors recommend using an antibacterial soap). If foot odor persists, try soaking your feet in a solution of 1 part vinegar to 2 parts water once a day for a week; the acidity helps kill bacteria. Foot odor can also be caused by a bacterial infection set off by an advanced case of athlete’s foot. If you’ve noticed peeling skin between your toes or on the soles of your feet, see your doctor if an athlete’s foot cream or spray doesn’t solve the problem.