Personal Hygiene

Attention to personal hygiene will help a person look their best, feel theirbest, and can even help in avoiding disease. People who are conscientious about personal hygiene take care of cleanliness, routine health care, and preventive health maintenance.

An overview of some of the most common preventable health problems illustrates the role of personal hygiene:

Mouth: Despite spending $1.5 billion on oral hygiene products each year, 98 percent of Americans have cavities or tooth decay. The combination of bacteriain the mouth, sugar in the diet, and susceptible teeth leads to decay, cavities, gum disease, and sometimes even the loss of teeth. These risks can be addressed by eating a variety of foods, limiting sugary foods, brushing and flossing regularly, and having regular dental checkups.

Eyes: Even people with normal vision need eye examinations to screen for disease, infection, and changes in vision. Protecting the eyes is a matter of following common sense measures such as guarding against poking the eyes or rubbing against them with dirty clothing, tissues, or fingers. It will also helpto avoid exposure to strong light and avoid eyestrain.

Ears: Avoid poking at the inside of the ears. Have regular hearing tests andear examinations to check for hearing loss or other disorders and illnesses.

Skin: Remove dirt, prevent odor, and make sure rough skin is moisturized. Breaks in the skin should be washed and bandaged. Pigment changes are usually not harmful, but too much sun can lead to skin cancer. A doctor should be consulted if there is a change in a wart or mole. Almost every teenager experiences some acne, and persistent cases can be treated by a family doctor or dermatologist. In cases of parasites such as head lice, body lice, and scabies, bedding and clothing must be treated in addition to the skin. The hair is part of the skin and it responds to good diet, exercise, good health habits, and regular shampooing.

Genitourinary: Conscientious patients can reduce the risk of cancer by performing the breast self-examination (women) and testicular self exam (men) at home and reporting any changes to a doctor. Prepubescent women need to learn special care of the body during menstruation. Adolescents face many pressures and decisions in the area of sexuality. Issues include abstinence, contraception, pregnancy, abortion, and sexually transmitted diseases, which can be incurable or fatal. Often parents and schools serve as resources on these topics.

Back: Care of the back requires correct procedures for lifting and bending. Many back problems can be prevented by keeping the muscles strong through exercise and good posture.

Feet: Most foot problems are preventable. Precautions include exposing the feet to fresh air, choosing shoes to promote healthy feet, rotating shoes on different days, and changing shoes when the feet are perspiring. Feet can alsobe protected by not sharing footwear, and by using footwear around pools andlocker rooms. A routine physical examination should include a foot exam.

General: Many day-to-day complaints can be addressed with preventive health strategies such as eating a good diet, getting enough rest, taking care of emotional stress, and seeking help for large fluctuations in weight. The simpleact of handwashing (at least 20 seconds according to Food and Drug Administration recommendations) can prevent the spread of many food-borne illnesses andupper respiratory infections. Staying home with a contagious illness will help keep it from spreading.

The medical profession has come to recognize violence as a public health issue. Teens need to learn about sexual assault, domestic violence, conflict resolution, and safety around weapons.

Sometimes lack of attention to personal health can be symptom of a deeper medical problem such as arthritis, poor eyesight, or dementia. Inattention to hygiene could also signal a depressive disorder or a substance abuse problem.

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