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The body can be unpredictable. It's stinky, sticky, itchy, gooey, and often does things that make us go "yuck!" And, sometimes, the last thing we want to do is talk to someone about it. Luckily, we're here to help make it a little easier.

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April 17, 2019

We've all experienced it. The pit in your stomach. The flush of your cheeks. The sweat on your brow. Jumbles of words seemingly nonsensically tumbling out of your mouth at 50 miles an hour. We're not describing the feeling of falling in love, though it sure does sound like it, doesn't it? Nope, we're here to talk about having a seriously awkward conversation with your healthcare professional, or so you think, about the latest weird thing your body is doing.

From bumps (was that there yesterday?) to smelly pits, it's important to be able to have an open and honest dialogue with a healthcare professional about everything that's going on with your body. In fact, many healthcare providers will tell you that they've heard it all and nothing surprises them anymore. But we get it, it's hard. Truth be told, that's why many people like to self-diagnose using the internet (which should never take the place of consulting a healthcare professional). To help you out, we've answered five of your most awkward, embarrassing, so-not-cool-at-all health questions – and even have some tips to make your next awkward conversation with a healthcare professional, well, just a little less awkward.

1. Why Do I Have So Much Earwax?

Even though the yellowish-orange substance your mom so lovingly used to refer to as "ear sweet potatoes" is kind of gross, it actually plays a really important role in the body. Cerumen, better known as earwax, is made in the outer part of the ear canal and it helps protect the ear from foreign bodies like dust and other particles that could damage the ear drum. It also may have antibacterial and antifungal properties and can help clean your ears of dead skin and dirt.

But for some, earwax can be a pain. Is it normal to be able to see earwax in your ears? Yes. Should you clean your ears every day? No. And what about those painful earaches you keep getting that you're sure are due to excessive earwax? The truth is, there are many things that may cause one person to have more earwax than another. For example, if you like to use in-ear earphones to listen to your music, podcasts, or whatever the kids are listening to these days, you may be more likely to have additional earwax in the ear canal because the earphones can push wax back and cause buildup.

a woman using a Q-tip to clean her ear

Okay, but wait, what am I supposed to do about it? Isn't it true that you're not supposed to clean your ears with Q-tips?

That's exactly right. It's never a good idea to try to clean your ears with Q-tips – or anything for that matter – because you may accidentally push the wax deeper, which can result in blockage. Instead, you can try softening the earwax with over-the-counter eardrops that are made specifically for earwax removal. But, really, earwax is completely natural, and we should just let it do its job. When it attaches to dirt or other particles, it will fall out on its own. However, if you're worried about earwax buildup or you think you're having trouble hearing possibly because of it, the best thing you can do is talk to your healthcare provider about your options. While buildup of earwax is typically not a sign of anything serious, your healthcare provider can help decide an appropriate treatment or safely remove excess earwax or a blockage, if needed.

2. Is it Normal for My Hands to be this Sweaty?

The short answer to this question is yes, sweating is perfectly normal, and happens to everyone. That's because when you feel nervous, anxious, or even excited, your body temperature increases. To maintain a safe and healthy body temp, your brain signals the eccrine glands – sweat glands that are highly concentrated in the hands, feet, and forehead – to jump into action. When triggered, the eccrine glands attempt to cool the body off with what we know as sweat. Unfortunately, this usually happens when you're holding hands with your crush for the first time at the movies or trying to grip the steering wheel during a snowstorm in the middle of Minnesota.

Sweaty hands can be a challenge to overcome because they're typically caused by emotional stress – which we don't always have complete control over. If you've ever been to the Grand Canyon, you may know what we mean. When you're standing on the side of the Grand Canyon looking down, without your even realizing it, your palms will probably start to sweat. That's because the sight of how high and steep the cliffs are triggers an automatic emotional response without us really even realizing it. With that in mind, it's no surprise that sweaty hands can be tough to conquer – but it can be done.

Are you going to tell us how?

Oh, yes. Of course. There are many different ways you can try to soak up the extra moisture on your hands. For example, if you know you're going to have a particularly stressful day – whether it's because of a big test, a presentation, or something else – practice taking deep breaths. It sounds simple, but taking a deep breath and holding it for a few seconds, then releasing it, can really help get your mind off whatever may be bothering you. It can also help take control of those strong emotional responses. We also recommend that you try putting a little bit of antiperspirant onto your hands at night. By applying it at nighttime, it will allow the ingredients to soak in to your skin and block sweat glands.

And lastly, if your hands tend to sweat at inopportune times, like ten minutes before you meet with your new boss, pack a small bag of baking powder or cornstarch in your purse or briefcase. Both will help absorb excess moisture in a pinch.

But…is it possible to sweat too much?

A little bit of sweat on your palms before a big sales pitch is perfectly normal – but if you find it's interfering with your life, is really bothersome, or makes you feel insecure, talk to a healthcare professional. It's possible you may have palmar hyperhidrosis, which is just a fancy word for excessive sweating. While it's not life threatening, there may be certain medications you can take that will help.

3. How Many Times Should I be Going to the Bathroom Every Day?

a person pulling a sheet off a toilet paper roll in a bathroom

This is a tough one. Bathroom frequency really does depend on the person and his or her liquid intake and other health habits – but a good general rule of thumb is that if you're urinating more than seven times a day, you may have what's called an overactive bladder. When it comes to an overactive bladder, in addition to frequent urination, you may also experience the need to urinate very suddenly, have difficulty sleeping through the night without having to get up two or more times, and urge incontinence, which is an involuntary loss of urine. Never fear, though. There are medications and other treatments, like bladder training and scheduled toilet trips that many people with overactive bladder find helpful and can help relieve symptoms. It's always a good idea to visit a medical professional to help decide which treatment is right for you.

Okay, but what about, um, number 2?

Again, this is another tricky one to answer because it really depends on the individual. There are many factors that go into how much and how often a person poops every day – and there really is no "normal." That's why it's especially important to listen to what your body is telling you through your bathroom habits. Temporary changes to bowel movements are expected every now and again, but if you start experiencing sudden abdominal pain, chronic diarrhea, or have concerns about bloody or black stool, it's a good idea to visit a healthcare professional to make sure everything is in tip-top shape.

As far as how many times people usually "go," it's safe to say that anywhere from three times a day to three times a week is typically the norm. And, ladies, here's a "fun" fact for you. If you find yourself pooping more on your period, you're not alone. That's because the same hormone-like compound that causes your uterus to contract can also prompt your bowel to do the same – and we all know what that means. So, if you find your bathroom habits change during your time of month, never fear, it's most likely perfectly "regular."

MedExpress Pro Tip: If you have questions for a healthcare professional about your bathroom schedule, it can sometimes be helpful to look up the medical terms for what you're experiencing. Using these words, like "bowel movement," to describe your symptoms instead of slang can help sterilize the conversation and take the emotion out of it.

4. I'm Itchy "Down There." Could This Mean I Have an STD?

Itchiness, of course, can be a sign of a sexually transmitted disease, or STD – but let's not jump to conclusions too hastily here. There are a wide variety of other unpleasant things that may be causing you to itch. For example, a yeast infection is really common among women and occurs when the yeast, candida, grows too quickly and causes itching and irritation. Also, have you changed soaps recently? Sometimes, certain chemical substances like creams, laundry detergents, soaps, and even scented toilet paper can cause an itchy and pesky rash or irritation.

Most of the time, occasional itching isn't anything to be concerned about, but it's always a good idea to check in with your healthcare provider to make sure there isn't an infection. Also, if you are worried you might have an STD, it's always good to catch it early. MedExpress offers STD testing, so stop in anytime from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. – no appointment necessary.

5. I've Been Told I Have Bad Breath. Help!

a man breathing into his hand to check the smell of his breath

Talk about an awkward conversation! Let's start with the obvious. Bad breath – medically referred to as halitosis – can be a sign of poor dental hygiene. A good first step to making sure your breath smells minty fresh is to brush at least twice a day and floss once a day. This helps prevent food particles from getting stuck in every nook and cranny of your mouth, which can cause bacterial growth around your teeth, gums, and tongue.

Sometimes, though, bad breath may be a sign of something more. Cavities and gum disease give that bacteria that causes bad breath more sneaky places to hide. Making regular (every six months) appointments with your dentist can help prevent cavities or gum disease from wreaking havoc on your fresh breath.

And remember those weird bodily fluids we talked about that help protect you from things that can make you sick or hurt? Saliva is one of them. When you don't produce enough saliva, you'll likely experience dry mouth – which means your mouth cannot properly rinse away food particles leftover in our mouth, nor can it easily break down food when you chew. When these processes don't happen correctly, itty bitty food pieces that are left behind can get stuck and cause bad breath.

Well, what should I do about it?

Luckily, bad breath is typically very treatable. In addition to brushing and flossing, try drinking more water or chewing sugarless gum to help support the production of saliva. But if you find people are still always offering you mints when you're talking to them, have a conversation with your dentist or other healthcare professional, who can help you track down the root of the issue.

6. What Can I Do to Make it Easier to Talk to My Doctor About This Stuff?

Ah, yes. The burning question on everyone's mind. To make your next conversation with your healthcare professional a little less awkward, try these tips:

  • Before heading to your appointment, make a list of all of the questions you have. Walk through the list closely during your checkup. The list will help the two of you stay on track – and if you're comfortable, you can even hand your healthcare provider your list for him or her to review, then talk about it.
  • Choose a healthcare provider who makes you feel comfortable. This may seem like a no-brainer, but seeing a provider who genuinely cares about your well-being will help you feel open to tell him or her honestly about what's going on in your body.
  • Remember that, to a healthcare provider, talking about your bathroom habits is no different than talking about a sore throat. They're there to help you, no matter what the issue. In that same vein, remember that they've likely seen and heard it all. You'll never risk making them feel uncomfortable or embarrassed by your concerns.
  • Be honest. It's easier said than done, but your healthcare provider needs to know as much as possible about you, your habits, and your health in order to make a proper diagnosis and recommend a treatment plan that's right for you. And remember the HIPAA Privacy Rule. Your provider cannot share any of your protected health information (PHI) without your written consent, no matter how awkward.
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