You don't want to ask these embarrassing body questions, so we asked for you
We know where your fart goes when you hold it in...
The human body is a beautiful thing, but it's also delightfully disgusting. One surprise stomach gurgle is enough to remind us how gross we really are. As much as we try to keep ourselves groomed and hygienic, our bodies can easily veer off into strange places we're not comfortable discussing in public — but those topics deserve our curiosity and attention nonetheless. We've collected some of your most queasy queries about your insides and outsides and sought the slightly-less-embarrassing answers from medical professionals so you can enjoy this discussion in complete anonymity.
Is it bad to hold in a fart?
However unpleasant sounding and smelling, farts can play an essential role in our digestive system (so much so that a fart pill could be on its way to your medicine cabinet soon). Even still, it's not something you want to trumpet in public, and we've all had enough cheek-clenching moments at dinner parties to know that we're more likely to hold it in that let it out. But how does that affect our bodies? "Holding in a fart can lead to abdominal discomfort and distension," says Dr. Stephanie Liu. No matter how hard you try to hold it, she says it "will eventually escape as an uncontrollable fart." There's potential for pain but Liu says, "Research is unclear if holding in your farts may increase your chances of diverticulitis," which is an inflammatory condition of the intestinal walls.
Does what I eat affect how my farts smell?
You may have had a binge-ful night of unusual junk foods, then woken up the next morning and not recognized your own scent… but why? Dr. Liu says a distinct change in your flatulent scent is often "due to sulfur-containing gases that are produced when foods that contain sulfur get broken down by bacteria in our gut." Distinctly sulfuric foods include some dairy (eggs, cheese, cow's milk), leafy greens (asparagus, broccoli, kale), beans, seafood and organ meats (like liver), so expect your dog to not recognize you if these are suddenly included in your diet. She adds that "odour is a source of embarrassment but is rarely associated with a serious illness."
I tend to get diarrhea just before I get my period, is that normal?
If your stools seem to loosen as a harbinger of your menstrual cycle, you're not alone. "In fact," says Liu, "a study published in BMC Women's Health found that 24% of their participants experience diarrhea pre or during their menstrual cycle."
"Getting loose stools before your period starts is very common for two reasons," says family doctor and health writer Dr. Melissa Lem, "increased release of the hormone-like substance prostaglandin and a drop in progesterone." Prostaglandins can stimulate increased secretions from, and contraction of, the bowels while the decrease in progesterone causes more intestinal activity.
I see large blood clots in my period blood, should I be worried?
Menstrual blood comes in varying consistencies, so some clotting is completely normal. "Period clots are made from a mix of blood and tissue from your uterus", says Liu, and "Most of the time, menstrual clots are not concerning, but if the clots are larger than a quarter and/or you're soaking a pad every hour, I recommend seeking medical attention."
Why does my belly button and behind my ears smell? What can I do about it?
As much as we pretend we don't, humans are inherently inclined to stink and a quick sniff behind your ears and belly button is enough to remind you why your mother was so adamant you wash them daily. Unless there are concerns for infection (like fever, redness, swelling or discharge), Liu doesn't recommend seeing a doctor. Because those areas and other skinfolds are dark, warm and moist, they're the perfect "environments for bacteria and fungus to thrive," she says. Liu suggests the best remedy is "daily cleansing with mild soap and water" while making sure to also keep those areas dry.
Why do certain shoes make my feet smell?
You can spend all day in running shoes with the freshest of feet, but five minutes in loafers gives you a sub-human stench. Is it you? Well, yes and no. "Smelly feet (bromodosis) occur when the feet get sweaty," says Liu. She says the odour itself "is made from bacteria breaking down a product in the sweat." So, any shoe that causes the feet to sweat more, like plastic shoes or other less-breathable materials are more likely to cause your feet to smell. Not wearing socks can have the same effect. A little baby powder is a quick fix for absorbing foot moisture in a shoe.
My partner has a toenail fungus, can I catch it?
Sure, you always wear flip flops in the gym shower, but do you need to be as vigilant if someone has a foot fungus in your home? "The short answer is yes," says Dr. Lem. "Onychomycosis, or toenail fungus, is contagious. If your feet come into close contact with something that has large amounts of fungal spores, like an infected person's socks, shoes or even a contaminated floor, their fungi can find their way into your toenails and overgrow, causing visible nail changes. People who are more prone to contracting toenail fungus include those with diabetes, circulation issues and a recent nail injury." Dr. Liu cautions to be especially wary in "warm, damp areas of the house, like the shower" and to not use the same file, trimmer or footwear as the infected person.
When I look at a white wall, I see black "floaters" in one of my eyes, should I be concerned?
Any change in vision can be alarming, but it's not always an indication of something serious. "It depends," says Lem, "Most floaters are caused by benign, clumped cells or fibres in the gel-like substance, or vitreous, that occupies the space between the front and back of your eye." Dr. Liu says that most of the time floaters are caused by age related changes in your eyes. "If you have long-standing, unchanging floaters in one eye without any other vision issues, it's probably not a concern," says Lem, though it's important to observe them carefully. Important warning signs include: "Seeing a sudden increase in floaters, especially if associated with flashing lights or a curtain coming over your vision." In such instances, it's recommended that you see a doctor urgently, to catch or rule out more critical vision issues.
I have body hair in unusual places, will shaving it make it thicker?
For both men and women, unsightly or unusual body hair remains a nagging issue that we go to increasingly greater lengths to remedy. While there are a few options for removal, the notion that shaving causes the hair to come back even thicker is just a myth. "Shaving does not cause hair to grow back thicker," says Liu. While shaving is effective on hair, it may not be so nice to the skin around it. Liu notes that "shaving can produce skin irritation from the cutting process of the blade or the gels/creams that are used" and such shaving "may also lead to abrasions on the skin that may increase the risk of skin infections."
My kid picks her nose and eats it. My husband insists it's building her immunity, is it?
Liu says the idea that picking your nose and eating it can strengthen your immune system "is based on a misinterpreted study and joke from a professor at the University of Saskatchewan that got a lot of media exposure. There is no good evidence that picking your nose and eating your own nasal secretions will increase your immune function." Liu says that in theory "ingesting boogers may expose the body to bacteria that may be trapped in nasal passages and the body could build immunity to that bacteria," but the opposite is more likely to be true. "A study published in Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology found that those who pick their nose are more likely to carry the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus than those who don't," explains Liu. S. aureus is generally benign (it lives on our skin) — but it can cause infection and it is when these bacteria develop resistance and become MRSA (methicillin resistant S. aureus) that it becomes a public health concern. It's not a great idea on a smaller scale either. "In fact," says Lem, "two reasons not to pick your nose are that most cold viruses enter your body through the nose, and it can increase your risk of nosebleeds."
Do you have an embarrassing body question we can answer? Stop picking your nose and ask it below.