They may not be life threatening, but hiccups, blisters, ingrown hairs, and other body bothers can be painful, embarrassing, and just plain annoying.
Most of us dismiss them as occasional nuisances and wait for them to get better on their own. In fact, there are simple steps you can take to make them go away faster—or to prevent them in the first place.
Here's a roundup of 15 of the most common body annoyances, with info on what causes them, how you should handle them, and when they may warrant a call to your doctor.
<strong>What causes them:</strong> Water finds its way into the ear canal, most often while you're swimming, and muffles your hearing. <strong>What to do:</strong> Often it's enough to tilt your head and find an angle that will let the water drain out, says Rachel C. Vreeman, MD, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the Indiana University School of Medicine, in Indianapolis. Holding a hair dryer a few inches from your ear can also dry up the fluid, Vreeman says--but be sure to use the gentlest setting. If the dryer is too hot or too loud, you could burn yourself or harm your hearing.
<strong>What causes them:</strong> Hiccups occur when your diaphragm starts contracting involuntarily. Your vocal cords snap shut after every spasm, making that familiar "hic" sound. <strong>What to do: </strong>Well-worn remedies, like drinking a glass of water upside down or holding your breath, can help. "Many of these cures actually seem to work by disrupting your breathing cycle in a way that allows the diaphragm to relax and stop its hiccup-causing spasms," says Vreeman, coauthor of<em> Don't Cross Your Eyes--They'll Get Stuck that Way!</em>. If your favorite trick doesn't help, your hiccups should subside on their own in a few minutes. Seek medical attention if they last for more than three hours or make it hard to breathe or swallow.
<strong>What causes it:</strong> A slowdown in saliva production can have many causes. It may simply be that you're not drinking enough water. But dry mouth can also be a side effect of many different medications, from antidepressants to antihistamines. <strong>What to do:</strong> Drink more water. Chewing sugar-free gum or sucking on sugarless hard candy can also help. Reduce your caffeine intake, and if you smoke, quit. You can also try one of the many over-the-counter dry mouth treatments, which include moisturizing rinses, sprays, and gels. "If none of these remedies work, check in with your doctor," says Roshini Raj, MD, <em>Health </em>magazine's medical editor and coauthor of <em>What the Yuck?!.</em> "There's a chance you could have another problem like a respiratory infection, chronic sinusitis, or diabetes."
<strong>What causes them:</strong> Friction--from a tight shoe rubbing against your foot, for example--can cause fluid to collect between layers of skin, causing a bubble-like blister. Burns and other skin injuries can also cause blisters. <strong>What to do:</strong> "The best thing you can do for your blister is leave it alone," Dr. Vreeman says. "Blisters can get infected easily, and this is why we don't want you to pop them unless they are really big." If you must pop a blister, make sure your hands are clean, use a sterile needle to let the fluid out, and don't remove the flap of skin covering the blister. You should seek medical help if the area around a blister gets red or tender, or starts draining fluid that is not clear--all of which can indicate infection.
<strong>What causes them:</strong> Frequent sneezing fits can mean you're allergic to something in your environment, although it can also signal the beginning of a viral infection. Some people are just prone to multiple sneezes. <strong>What to do:</strong> "If you regularly have sneezing fits, you need to think carefully about when they happen and what you might be allergic to," Dr. Vreeman says. "Dust, pollen and animal dander are the most common causes." If your sneezes happen only during pollen season, or after you pet a dog, you may have allergies. See an allergist to find out for sure. Then, depending on what you're allergic to, avoiding it may be easy; if not, talk to your allergist about treatment.
<strong>What causes it: </strong>Holding your head in an awkward position for an extended period of time--while using a smartphone or laptop, say--can strain your neck muscles, leading to pain and stiffness. <strong>What to do:</strong> Be aware of your posture. If you work in an office, make sure your desk, chair, computer keyboard, and monitor are positioned to let you work comfortably. The same rules apply at home. "The best way to use a laptop is on a desk, not your lap, with the screen at eye level and the keyboard within easy reach," Dr. Raj says. And that goes for iPads and other devices, she adds. If your stiff neck doesn't respond within a week to home remedies like over-the-counter pain relievers, heating pads, icing, or gentle massage, check with your doctor.
<strong>What causes it:</strong> Lips generally become chapped due to dry air, cold weather, or too much sun. The skin on your lips is much thinner than the skin of your face and contains no oil glands, so it gets dehydrated faster. This dryness makes your lips fragile, which can cause painful splits and cracks. <strong>What to do:</strong> Licking your lips can make it worse. Frequent applications of lip balm will shield the delicate skin of your lips and help them heal. Dermatologists recommend using a balm with built-in sun protection, and staying away from ingredients like eucalyptus or camphor, which can dry out your lips. If lip balm doesn't do the trick you should consult a doctor. "Cracks at the corners of your mouth may be a sign of a vitamin deficiency," Dr. Raj says. "Have a doctor check your levels--and consider taking a multivitamin."
<strong>What causes it:</strong> These painful muscle spasms in the leg or foot can occur a few hours after a strenuous workout, or at the end of a long day spent in heels. Dehydration or low levels of certain minerals, such as potassium, may also be to blame. <strong>What to do:</strong> A Charley horse every now and then isn't cause for concern, Dr. Raj says. "Try eating more foods with potassium, like avocados and bananas," she advises. Be sure you're hydrating adequately before workouts, she adds, and fully warm up and cool down after each exercise session. Rarely, the spasms can be due to nerve injury--stemming from a herniated disc, for example. If they happen frequently, have your doctor test for nutrient deficiencies and do a full neurological exam.
<strong>What causes it:</strong> A foot, hand, or other body part can get numb when something presses on the nerve pathway connecting it to your brain. That pins-and-needles feeling occurs when the pressure is removed and the body part "wakes up" and starts talking to your brain again, Dr. Vreeman says. <strong>What to do:</strong> Moving your foot in circles or clenching and unclenching your hand should get rid of pins and needles fast, Dr. Vreeman says. "Shifting position, not crossing your legs for long periods of time, and taking breaks to move around can all prevent you from having a body part fall asleep," she adds. If normal feeling doesn't come back quickly, you may have problems with your nerves or circulation, and should seek medical attention.
<strong>What causes them: </strong>When hairs grow back into the skin after shaving or tweezing, they can produce painful and unsightly bumps. They're most likely to be a problem in people with tightly curling hair. <strong> What to do: </strong>You can stop tweezing, shaving, or waxing. If that isn't an option, your doctor can prescribe creams, such as Renova, that help slough dead cells from the surface of your skin. Also, as you're getting ready to shave, gently rubbing your skin with a warm washcloth in a circular motion may help prevent ingrown hairs. If you get one anyway, you can try carefully passing a clean needle under the hair to pull it out of the skin--but don't puncture or pick at the skin.
<strong>What causes them:</strong> When mosquitoes suck your blood, they leave some saliva behind. The itchy bump that appears on your skin afterwards is caused by your immune system reacting to the proteins in mosquito spit. <strong>What to do:</strong> Apply calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream, and repeat until the itch is gone. If you're having a more severe reaction, you can take an over-the-counter antihistamine. The best cure is to avoid getting bitten in the first place. Cover up as much as possible, use insect repellent (including on your clothes), and stay inside during peak biting hours, which for most types of mosquitoes are from dusk to dawn.
<strong>What causes it:</strong> An itchy throat can be due to irritation from a cold, the flu, seasonal allergies, postnasal drip, air pollution--even yelling. <strong>What to do: </strong>Most of the time, your throat will get better with home remedies like drinking plenty of liquids, gargling with warm salt water (one-half teaspoon of salt in one cup of water), sucking on lozenges, and taking over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen. Putting a humidifier in your bedroom can also help. If your itchy throat is allergy-related, antihistamines may be useful for easing the itch and treating other symptoms. But unless you've got strep throat, which can only be determined with a strep test, you won't benefit from antibiotics.
<strong>What causes it:</strong> Hot weather, cold weather, dry air, sun, harsh soaps--all of these things and more can dry out your skin. Dry skin may also occur when your thyroid gland is working sluggishly, a condition known as hypothyroidism. <strong>What to do: </strong>If your dry skin is caused by environmental factors, using plenty of moisturizer and showering in lukewarm water (rather than hot) will make a big difference. See your doctor for help with dry skin that persists. He or she may be able to prescribe ointments that will solve the problem, and can determine if the dryness is due to an underlying medical condition.
<strong>What causes it:</strong> This uncomfortable feeling of fullness in your tummy occurs when excess gas gets trapped in your stomach and intestines. Bloating can be triggered by a variety of factors, ranging from eating too much at one sitting to medical conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome. <strong>What to do: </strong>"Exercise might be the last thing on your mind when your stomach hurts, but a brisk 10- or 15-minute walk can do wonders," Dr. Raj says. "If you don't exercise, your intestines become sluggish, which can lead to cramping and constipation." Dr. Raj also suggests applying gentle pressure in a circular motion to a spot four finger-widths above your navel, for five minutes. This acupressure technique can ease stress and calm belly woes.
<strong>What causes them:</strong> Pimples occur when excess oil in the skin blocks a pore and dead cells, dirt, and bacteria build up inside. Teens are especially prone to acne, due to hormonal changes, but pimples can strike at any age. <strong>What to do:</strong> If you try to pop a pimple the wrong way you're liable to end up with a scar. To remove one properly, cover it with a hot, wet towel for about three minutes. Then, wrap your fingers in a tissue and gently squeeze the pimple from either side until the fluid runs clear. If it's a blackhead and doesn't come out easily, stop and try again later. Dermatologists can treat more serious cases of acne with topical medications, oral antibiotics, and even laser therapy.
How to Stop Hiccups
Find out why we get hiccups and ways to stop them.
CORRECTION: This article previously incorrectly identified Rachel C. Vreeman, MD. as Rachel C. Freeman, MD. The article has been corrected to reflect this change.