No, you don’t want to over-worry about your health, but some signs require attention.
Here are six often-dismissed health issues that you should address.
1. Fungal infections on your feet or toenails. Feet tend to be moist and warm, a good place for a fungus to grow. Your skin or nails thicken and become scaly and itchy; your skin may crack and peel or form blisters. If you have a blister, soak your foot in Burow's solution or apply compresses for a few days until the blister fluid is gone, then use an OTC antifungal cream as directed. Avoid moisturizers or hydrocortisone cream. An OTC treatment should work within about six weeks. While you’re waiting for the infection to clear up, and afterwards, be sure to dry between your toes after you swim or shower, wear socks, take off your shoes when you’re indoors if possible, alternate your shoes, and use talcum or antifungal powder on your feet.
Some people ignore “athlete’s foot.” Don’t: you can spread it to other people and from your feet to your groin. Dry your groin area before your feet after bathing, and put on your socks before your underwear. Also, cracked skin can develop bacterial infections (not the same as the fungus infection), which are serious.
2. Cold sores and fever blisters on the lip. Don’t panic that you have genital “herpes,” which is generally caused by herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2). Most cold sores on the lips come from another virus, HSV-1. Most people are first infected with HSV-1 as children, and the virus lives on in the facial nerves. It can reappear in an adult after a cold or fever, or a stress like dental treatment, or too much sun. Try an OTC cream: there’s some research backing zinc oxide creams, less for aloe vera. If a cold sore appears because you’re stressed out, see it as a signal to be very kind to yourself — get a massage, find down time, or address a nagging problem.
3. Bloody spots under your fingernails. If you see signs of a broken blood vessel and can’t think of any recent injury, you may actually need to see a doctor to rule out endocarditis, a bacterial infection in your heart. Antibiotics can stop the infection. Left untreated, a heart infection can be dangerous.
The same bloody spots could appear in the whites of the eyes or on the chest. Other potential signs people often miss include: pale skin; painful, red or purplish bumps under the skin on the fingers or toes; and small dark painful flat spots on the palms or the soles of the foot.
If you also have a lasting cough, blood in your urine, swollen feet or legs, or feel like you have a flu, get thee to a physician!
4. Pale skin. If your skin is much lighter than usual, you may have a heart infection or more often anemia, which means your blood isn’t carrying enough oxygen. The most typical cause is an iron deficiency. In young women, heavy menstrual bleeding can cause anemia. Men, and women who aren’t menstruating, may need a colon exam to identify a source of chronic bleeding. Don’t just pop iron pills. You’ll need a doctor to sleuth what’s going on.
5. A butterfly-shaped rash on both cheeks that crosses the nose. You might dismiss a rash as a sign of fever, or sunburn. Be careful if it has the distinctive butterfly shape, which may indicate systemic lupus erythematosus, an immune disorder.
Often the first signs of lupus are a combination of joint pain and rashes. The rashes may look like red spots or be scaly and purple, and appear on your face, neck or arms. Other signs of lupus are unexplained fevers and patchy hair loss.
People often have lupus for some time before the condition is diagnosed. Although lupus strikes mostly women of childbearing age, men, children, and teenagers can develop it, too.
6. Belly bloat. Usually, you can explain belly bloat because you overate or ate foods that often bother you. But when a woman’s belly is bloated for more than a day for no obvious reason, and has become uncomfortable, she should go to a gynecologist. The discomfort could be caused by a large mass in the ovary or fluid build-up and be an early sign of ovarian cancer. Once that’s ruled out, you might experiment and see if you feel less bloated if you drink more water or cut out dairy products. Ditch carbonated soda and chewing gum.
June 14, 2016
Janet O’Dell, RN