One of the most effective ways we have to protect ourselves and others from illness is good personal hygiene. This means washing your hands, especially, but also your body.
It means being careful not to cough or sneeze on others, cleaning things that you touch if you are unwell, putting items such as tissues (that may have germs) into a bin, and using protection (like gloves or condoms) when you might be at risk of catching an infection.
Personal hygiene, such as bathing, is very much dependent on the culture in which you live.
In some cultures, it is expected that you will wash your body at least every day and use deodorants to reduce body smells. Other cultures have different expectations.
Body smells are caused by a number of factors working in combination, including:
Most infections, especially colds and gastroenteritis, are caught when we put our unwashed hands, which have germs on them, to our mouth. Some infections are caught when other people’s dirty hands touch the food we eat. Hands and wrists should be washed with clean soap and water, using a brush if your fingernails are dirty. Dry your hands with something clean, such as paper towels or hot air dryers.
You should always wash your hands:
The vagina is able to clean itself so no special care is needed, other than washing the external genitals. Do not put anything like douches into the vagina, as the delicate skin can be damaged. Here are some personal hygiene suggestions for women:
Menstruation – wash your body, including your genital area, in the same way as you always do. Change tampons and sanitary napkins regularly, at least four to five times a day. Always wash your hands before and after handling a tampon or pad.
Cystitis – is an infection of the bladder. This is a common condition for sexually active young women. Urinating after sexual intercourse can help to flush out any bacteria that may be in the urethra and bladder.
Thrush – some soaps and detergents can irritate the skin of the vagina, and make thrush infections more likely. Some people find that they often get thrush when they use antibiotics. Use mild soap and unperfumed toilet paper. Avoid tight, synthetic underwear. Try cotton underwear, and change regularly. There is medical treatment for thrush, so talk to your doctor or pharmacist.
A build-up of secretions called smegma can form under the foreskin of uncircumcised men. If you are uncircumcised, gently pull back the foreskin when you have a shower and clean with water. You can use soap if you like, but make sure you rinse it off well.
Good dental hygiene includes regular brushing and flossing. Bad breath can be caused by diseases of the teeth, gums and mouth, such as infections. Most people have bad breath first thing in the morning because saliva is not made while you’re asleep. Some foods that can cause bad breath include garlic and onion.
Mouth washes, mouth sprays and flavoured chewing gum can make your breath smell better for a while, but if you have a health problem in your mouth, you need to see your dentist.
When travelling overseas, take special care if you’re not sure whether the water is safe. Suggestions include:
Good personal hygiene is one of the most effective ways to protect ourselves and others from many illnesses, such as gastroenteritis.
Wash your hands regularly, especially before preparing or eating food and after going to the toilet.
The main function of sweat is to control body temperature as it evaporates from the skin. Heat stroke can occur on a hot day if there is insufficient sweating. Hyperhidrosis is abnormal excessive sweating, most often without any known cause. Reduced sweating is called hypohidrosis, if there is partial loss of sweating, or anhidrosis if there is complete lack of sweating.
Sweat is produced by glands in the deeper layer of the skin, the dermis. Sweat glands occur all over the body, but are most numerous on the forehead, the armpits, the palms and the soles of the feet. Sweat is mainly water, but it also contains some salts. Its main function is to control body temperature. As the water in the sweat evaporates, the surface of the skin cools. An additional function of sweat is to help with gripping, by slightly moistening the palms.
Normal, healthy sweating is caused by:
Abnormal increased sweating is known as hyperhidrosis. Idiopathic hyperhidrosis is the most common form of excessive sweating. It is called idiopathic because no cause can be found for it. It can develop during childhood or later in life and can affect any part of the body, but the palms and soles or the armpits are the most commonly affected areas. The excessive sweating may occur even during cool weather, but it is worse during warm weather and when a person is under emotional stress.
Some known causes include:
In the majority of cases, no investigations are required to diagnose hyperhidrosis. Occasionally, a blood test for thyroid disease is recommended.
Treatment for excessive sweating
Treatment for excessive sweating depends on the cause. This may include:
Some strategies for managing hyperhidrosis at home include:
Reduced sweating is called hypohidrosis, if there is partial loss of sweating, or anhidrosis if there is complete lack of sweating. This can occur for a number of reasons, which include:
Lack of sweating may create problems of temperature control and lead to steep rises in body temperature during hot weather. Occasionally, this can be life threatening due to Heat Stroke or Heat Exhaustion.
Heat stroke (or sun stroke) can occur in hot weather when not enough sweat is produced to keep the body cool.
Symptoms can include:
Excessive loss of body salts and water can lead to a life-threatening complication known as heat exhaustion. Heat stroke can be managed, and heat exhaustion prevented, by seeking a cool, shaded place, drinking plenty of fluids and sponging the body with water, if necessary.
Washing hands properly after using the toilet, changing nappies, handling animals and before and after handling food helps prevent the spread of various forms of gastroenteritis, some of which can cause serious health problems. Use soap and warm running water and wash hands for at least 10 seconds. Liquid soap is best.
A number of infectious diseases can be spread from one person to another by contaminated hands, particularly gastrointestinal infections, influenza and hepatitis A. Washing your hands properly can help prevent the spread of the organisms that cause these diseases.
Some forms of gastroenteritis can cause serious complications, especially for young children, the elderly, or those with a weakened immune system. Drying your hands properly is as important as washing them.
You should wash your hands thoroughly:
To wash hands properly:
Cold water is better than no water at all for a one-off hand wash, but should not be used for routine handwashing. Soap lathers (soaps up) better with warm water.
The active ingredients on the surface of the soap are released more easily, making them more effective in cleaning your hands of dirt, grease and oils, without stripping away the natural oils in your skin. Using cold or hot water can also damage the skin’s natural oils. Over time, this can cause dermatitis.
Generally, it is better to use liquid soap than bar soap, particularly at work. The benefits of liquid soap include:
Hygiene – it is less likely to be contaminated.
Right amount – liquid soap dispensers do not dispense more than required (more is not better).
Less waste – it’s easier to use, with less wastage. Drop-in cassette dispensers use all the soap.
Saves time – liquid soap dispensers are easy and efficient to use.
Disposable liquid soap cassettes are convenient, as you do not have to wash and thoroughly dry the refillable container before refilling. If you want to use refillable containers, they must not be topped up. When they are empty, they must be thoroughly cleaned and dried before they are refilled to avoid contamination.
At home, refillable dispensers are more likely to be used rather than drop-in cassettes, which are designed for commercial use.
The problems with bar soap – particularly in public places.
There are many reasons why bar soap can be a problem, particularly if it’s used by a lot of people. These problems include:
Handwashing is only one part of hand hygiene. Looking after your skin generally is important, as your skin is the perfect barrier against infection. After your hands have been dried thoroughly, you can help to look after your hands if you:
Apply a water-based absorbent hand cream three to four times a day, or more frequently if your hands are constantly in water.
Proper hand washing can protect you and others from a range of diseases.