Embarrassing (but common) ailments


From tinea to haemorrhoids, you're not alone.

Ever wondered if it's just you?


Bodies can be pretty embarrassing: a little bit gross, smelly, loud and out of control. And, as much as we may trust our GP, it can be a bit tricky to open an appointment with "I've got an itch down there" or "How about those haemorrhoids?" We got up close to some of the more embarrassing maladies and conditions that might be making you squirm, to reveal what could be causing them and what you can do to sort them out.

Of course, the usual disclaimer goes here: this is not exhaustive medical information, and some embarrassing symptoms might be the sign of an underlying serious illness. So even though it can be a pain in the proverbial, please see your doctor if symptoms persist.

We've got the lowdown on the following conditions:

1. Jock itch

What is it?

Jock itch is a contagious fungal skin infection, officially known as tinea cruris. It generally presents as a rash on the groin area, mostly on men but sometimes on women, and generally isn't on the penis, scrotum or vagina (if you've got itching there it could well be something else, like thrush or a sexually transmitted infection, so make sure you get it checked out). It spreads from person to person either directly through skin-to-skin contact or through towels, clothes or floors. Fungal infections thrive in warm, moist areas, so sweat-prone areas like skin folds are the most likely areas for tinea to take hold.

How can you treat it?

Tinea can be treated with antifungal creams, but more stubborn infections may involve an oral antifungal medication.

2. Bad breath

What is it?

We all know eating garlic before a first date is a bad idea, but some people seem to have a mouth odour problem regardless of diet. So what's up? Bacteria that live on the tongue and throat are generally the culprits behind bad breath, otherwise known as halitosis. In most cases the bacteria play nice, but in some people they work at super speed to break down proteins, and so-called odorous volatile sulphur compounds are released from the back of the tongue and throat. Halitosis can also be caused by poor oral hygiene, periodontitis, dry mouth and smoking, along with a host of other less common reasons.

How can you treat it?

There's good news and bad news on treatment options. The bad news is there's no one way of fixing the problem, as it all depends on the underlying cause. The good news is there's a range of remedies to try, including drinking plenty of fluids, maintaining good dental habits like regular brushing and flossing, and cleaning your tongue using tongue brushes or scrapers. Specialty mouthwash may help, but if the underlying cause of your bad breath is dry mouth, avoid mint-flavoured mouthwash and lollies which can aggravate dry mouth tissue. In some cases antibiotics may be needed to treat the bacteria on the tongue.

3. Haemorrhoids

What is it?

Haemorrhoids are number three on our list because they often come after a number two. (Boom tish!) But seriously, haemorrhoids are the holy grail of embarrassing body conditions and actually come in three different forms: internal, prolapsed and external. They form when the blood flow in the vessels in and around the anus is hindered.

Internal haemorrhoids are inside the rectum and are painless but tend to bleed, so you may become aware of them when you find a smear of blood on toilet paper. Prolapsed haemorrhoids are also internal but tend to be painful. They're caused by veins pushing through the anus and hanging out of the body. External haemorrhoids feel like hard lumps under the skin around the anus. 

Haemorrhoids are caused by a variety of factors, including constipation, pregnancy, manual labour, sitting on hard surfaces for extended periods of time, and genetic factors.

How can you treat it?

The main way to prevent and treat haemorrhoids is to avoid constipation. A high fibre diet and plenty of water helps produce soft bowel motions that are passed easily and regularly. Haemorrhoids can also be treated using astringent ointments or suppositories, or with band ligation for internal haemorrhoids. In severe cases, surgery may be needed.

4. Constipation

What is it?

Constipation, the parent problem of haemorrhoids, is when you have hard, dry poo that is infrequent or requires straining. There are lots of different causes of constipation, including change in routine, low fibre diets, certain medication, pregnancy, age, illness or not enough fluids or exercise, although it can also be a symptom of more serious underlying illnesses such as tumours.

How can you treat it?

Treatment for constipation depends on its cause, but can include changes to diet, increasing exercise, or removing the impacted faeces, potentially through enemas, stool softeners or laxatives.

5. Flatulence

What is it?

Like death and taxes, farts are an inevitability of life. Flatulence is the discharge of intestinal gas – a completely normal digestive process. Depending on diet, some people may fart just a few times each day while others may be veritable wind machines, letting one off up to 40 times a day. The quantity and quality of your farts will depend on a range of factors, including how high in fibre your diet is. That being said, excessive flatulence accompanied by other symptoms such as extensive bloating could be a sign of lactose intolerance, short-chain carbohydrate intolerance, and irritable bowel syndrome.

How can you treat it?

If you're just dealing with garden-variety gassiness, there's not much to be done apart from perhaps investing in a room deodoriser (or a nose-peg or two for your nearest and dearest). To prevent gassiness caused by a change to a higher-fibre diet, it's a good idea to introduce additional fibre gradually, allowing your body some time to adjust. But if you suspect you might be dealing with an underlying issue, it's a good idea to get checked out.

6. Incontinence

What is it?

Incontinence is no fun, unlike the many activities that can lead to it. Sneezing, trampolines, hilarious friends – these are all dangerous if you have a tendency to leak urine or faeces. Incontinence affects millions of people of all ages in Australia and can be caused by everything from having a baby to diabetes, so it really shouldn't be such a big deal. But because it's so embarrassing, people may not seek help for something that can, in many cases, be treated effectively.

How can you treat it?

Depending on what's causing your incontinence, you can use a management plan, medication, pelvic floor muscle exercises, dietary changes or botulinum toxin (Botox) injections. If you want to speak with someone about incontinence before you head to your doctor, you can call the National Continence Helpline on 1800 330 066.

7. Athlete's foot

What is it?

Athlete's foot, another form of tinea, is a fungal infection that likes to live between your toes and on the arch of the foot. You may develop small blisters on your feet, and the skin may become red, moist and itchy. Athlete's foot is very easy to catch, particularly if you're living with others, walking around barefoot in a locker room or using the showers at the gym.

How can you treat it?

The best way to treat athlete's foot is to avoid catching it, meaning you should wear shoes in public areas and thongs in public showers, and not share towels. But if you do pick it up, you can treat it with anti-fungals.

8. Ingrown toenails

What is it?

Ingrown toenails are caused by nails, particularly on the big toe, becoming cracked or frayed and forming sharp edges that push into the skin. As a result, the area can become infected, swollen and painful. Causes include wearing badly-fitting shoes, poor nail-cutting technique or a naturally abnormal nail shape.

How can you treat it?

To avoid getting ingrown nails in the first place make sure you don't cut nails into the corners and keep them smooth so no spikes are left behind. It's also important to wear the right size shoes that aren't too tight. If you do have ingrown nails, you may need to see a doctor or specialist for medication or, in worst-case scenarios, surgery.

9. Dandruff

What is it?

Dandruff is a very common problem affecting roughly half of all people. Skin all over the body, including on the scalp, is constantly being shed and renewed, and when things are running well you won't notice anything out of the ordinary. But inflammation of the scalp may cause cells to stick together and clump, meaning that when the skin is shed, it becomes visible and unsightly. And before you know it, you're banishing all your black shirts to the back of the closet.

How can you treat it?

Anti-dandruff shampoo is your friend. Regular washing of the hair using a shampoo that contains zinc pyrithione, zinc omadine, selenium sulphide or piroctone olamine, or in some cases tar-based shampoos, can usually get the situation under control. Interestingly, Better Health Victoria says dandruff sufferers should match their anti-dandruff shampoo and conditioner, as unmatched conditioners may inactivate the active ingredient in the shampoo.


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