Published May 24, 2013
Click over to the history tab in your browser and scan what's there. We're going to bet there's at least one semi-embarrassing health question you've been trying to get to the bottom of, but would never breathe a word about to your doctor.
To help you save time (and face), we canvassed doctors across America about common embarrassing symptoms and guess what? None of them flinched. They also had some fascinating clues as to what might be causing them—and what you can do about it. Here, strange symptoms you'd rather not talk about—explained.
Why do I pee when I run?
"Exercise-induced incontinence is not uncommon in women, and it's usually caused by one of two factors:
"1. Stress incontinence occurs when the pressure inside the abdomen exceeds the resistance at the neck of the bladder (for example: if the urethral sphincter muscle doesn't close with enough force). Running or other strenuous physical exercise could cause this increase in abdominal pressure and subsequent urinary leakage. (Sound familiar? See 11 Fixes For A Weak Bladder.)
"2. The other main reason is bladder overactivity, where the muscles of the wall of the bladder squeeze when they should be relaxed (during bladder filling). This gives people a sense of urgency, and may cause them to leak urine.
"If you're experiencing urine leakage with running or other physical exercise, I encourage you to seek help from a urologist or your primary health care provider."
—Dr. Tomas L. Griebling, professor and vice-chair of urology at the University of Kansas
My thighs chafe when I walk. What's up?
"Well, chafing is the irritation of the skin from chronic rubbing of skin on skin. And it’s totally typical to chafe between the thighs. Chafing is not only associated with repetitive movements from exercise, but also everyday activities—especially in patients who are overweight. The ultimate cure for chafing that you get from everyday activities is weight loss because that removes that element of skin rubbing.
"In extreme cases of chafing, you can use topical anti-inflammatory medications. A hydrocortisone 1% cream is a good place for people to start. It’s available over the counter and it’s inexpensive. You should limit use to no more than two weeks, though, because long-term use of cortisones can result in thinning of the skin. The cortisones work by reducing inflammation from the chafing
"But the separate issue has to do with disruption of the skin barrier itself. That can be treated with moisturizing creams and skin protectants, such as zinc-containing creams. These are the same type of creams that we use on the bottoms of babies during diaper changes."
—Dr. Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research in the dermatology department at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City
Why do I have tons of skin tags?
"We don’t totally understand why people develop them, but we know that they’re more common in patients who are overweight or obese. So first of all, these are harmless spots for the most part, but in cases when they get large and irritated—if they start getting stuck in jewelry or they start to bleed—then they should be treated.
"Unfortunately, insurance companies do not cover removal of skin tags, as they are considered cosmetic. So it’s an out-of-pocket procedure and the cost ranges anywhere from $100 to $500 per session, depending on the number of skin tags that you have and who you’re being treated by. Small tags can be cauterized away and larger tags can be snipped off."
— Dr. Zeichner
Why do my feet stink?
"Smelly feet are most often caused when the feet sweat. Even when your feet aren’t sweating, there’s a bacteria on your body called normal skin flora—and your feet certainly have its choice of normal skin flora! Once you sweat it kind of triggers this bacteria, and the bacteria can give off odors. The different types of bacteria can give off different types of odors, which is why some people’s feet might stink differently.
"It can make things worse if you wear a nylon sock that doesn’t absorb sweat and causes more sweating. The thing that I find most effective—especially for people who have very sweaty feet, which is a condition that we call hyperhidrosis—is the use of an antiperspirant on your feet. Same stuff you would use under your arms! You can roll it on, spray it on, whatever. Some people just have it really bad. Certain people just have smellier feet and that’s all there is to it."
—Dr. Cary M. Zinkin, podiatric sports physician and spokesperson for the American Podiatric Medical Association.
Is it normal to have lots of earwax?
"It’s just a wax buildup, which is not unusual. What can be done for that is what we call an ear canal or earwax maintenance program. Hydrogen peroxide is a great way to hopefully prevent these huge balls of wax falling out of your ears. We usually tell people just straight up regular hydrogen peroxide like you put on cuts—five drops in the ear canal maybe once a week or so. Just a simple maintenance regimen. A lot of times that will help the ear from producing a large amount of earwax. It helps dissolve it and keeps the ear canal open.
"Also what helps honestly is possibly seeing an ear, nose, and throat doctor (ENT) on a semi-regular basis. We see a lot of people every six months for earwax removal. So, a regimen of, say, hydrogen peroxide on a weekly basis and then maybe even seeing an ENT every now and again to clean out anything that the hydrogen peroxide doesn’t resolve."
—Dr. Anthony J. Cornetta, otolaryngologist at Huntington Medical Group in New York
I have a lot of boogers in my nose.
"We see a lot of people with this, especially in the winter. It’s essentially the nose drying out. A humidifier is a good start. Here, it’s another type of maintenance program similar to the ears.
"Other than a humidifier, there are two other things that can really help. Saline spray once or twice a day. It’s available over the counter. You could also try using a little saline gel within the nostril. It’s like the spray but in gel form. You can just put a little bit on a q-tip or on your pinkie and just put it right in the nostril. That will moisturize it so it’s not feeling dry and crusty."
Why am I so bloated?
"It’s a common symptom to be bloated, and most bloating is totally benign, other than being annoying and uncomfortable. It often comes from eating foods that tend to produce gas—the ones we all know and love which probably generate other embarrassing symptoms—swallowing air because you ate too fast, or a post-nasal drip.
"The trap is that a lot of things that are more serious can also cause bloating. It’s the issue of zebras have four legs, but if you see a four-legged animal it’s more likely to be a dog or a horse than a zebra. Bloating in a healthy person without anything going on is more likely from one of the aforementioned things. This unexplained bloating can be a symptom of ovarian cancer, but I think most people who have bloating don’t have ovarian cancer. It’s certainly worth raising with your doctor that you’re having bloating, especially if you’ve eliminated the things I’ve mentioned." (Try this smoothie cure for gas and bloating.)
—Dr. Yul Ejnes, general internist and immediate past chair of the board of regents at American College of Physicians
What causes my hands to swell when I eat salty food?
"Certainly if you take on added salt in your food, your body may retain extra fluid and that fluid will disperse itself to your tissues, including your hands. It doesn’t mean anything serious. It’s just a physiological effect of the added salt load. I’m not sure how the ice cream would do that. But, yeah, I’ve had patients complain of their hands swelling under certain circumstances.
"If it’s something that happens in a circumstance like this: in terms of certain foods or if you notice it in hot weather or had your arms hanging for awhile where gravity is basically pushing the fluid down, those things don’t tend to be terribly serious. If your hands swell along with the rest of your body or if you’re having trouble breathing, then that raises it to a level where at least it should get checked. The other issue is if your hands swell after you eat salty food, don’t eat salty foods!" (Easier said than done! Check out these 6 “healthy” foods that harbor crazy amounts of salt.)