More Embarrassing Questions

Family Health, Healthy Living, Menopause, Women's Health
on October 1, 2010

Q: Is it normal for pubic hair to thin during menopause?

A: Hair loss–from anywhere on your body–is a natural, age-related phenomenon, says Dr. Margery Gass, executive director of the North American Menopause Society and certified menopause practitioner. Some women produce dihydotestosterone (DHT), the hormone generally responsible for male pattern baldness. Before menopause, high levels of estrogen protect those women from DHT’s balding effects. But as estrogen levels drop during and after menopause, a woman’s hair can also thin. Genetics and ethnic background can also affect hair loss patterns, but in general “losing pubic hair is an extremely common occurrence,” says Gass.

Q: Some brands of toilet paper really irritate my vagina. Why?

A: It may sound strange, but it you’re experiencing symptoms like itching, burning or stinging, you could be allergic to certain toilet papers. To make it whiter and stronger, chemicals such as bleach and formaldehyde-releasing agents lurk in those cotton squares, which may irritate your skin, says Dr. Amy E. Newburger, a dermatologist in Scarsdale, New York, and spokesperson for the American Academy of Dermatology. Newberger recommends avoid any TP with a fragrance or added ingredient such as lotion (usually marketed as “for sensitive skin”). “If you’re particularly prone to irritation, your best bet is pure cotton balls or squares,” she says. “Or skip toilet paper altogether and invest in a bidet and pat dry with a towel.”

Q: I sometimes have severe anal itching and can find nothing to help. What could be the problem?

A: Ironically, many cases of anal itching, also known as pruritus ani, result from trying too hard to keep the area clean. Harsh soaps, excessive scrubbing and dry skin from over-washing can cause irritation and itching. Allergies to laundry soaps, cologne, toilet paper, medications and even certain foods could also be the culprit. Anal itching is also the number one complaint associated with hemorrhoids, a condition in which veins in the lower portion of the anus become painfully swollen. Because the anus skin is fragile, scratching it can cause cracks, which put you at risk for infection and actually make itching worse. To avoid infection, Newburger recommends using Tucks Pads after a bowel movement. The pads contain witch hazel that can cleanse the area, shrink hemorrhoids and soothe inflammation. You can also moisturize the rectum with Vaseline or zinc oxide. If you have anal itching that lasts longer than two weeks, see your doctor.

Q: I am a 77-year old man, and I had prostate surgery last year. I leak when I cough or twist. Is there an exercise for this?

A: “To leak up to a tablespoon of urine is normal after prostate surgery,” says Dr. Mani Menon, Director of the Henry Ford Vattikuti Urology Institute in Detroit, who does 700 prostate surgeries annually. And about one-third of men leak a few drops or more just with age. That’s because the two muscles that men have to control urine–the external sphincter and the prostate–weaken with age and can be affected by surgery. To strengthen those muscles, Menon recommends exercises that you may think are reserved for women: kegels. Keeping your buttocks, abs and thighs relaxed, squeeze your pelvic floor muscles. Do several sets of 10 to increase strength, and practice holding muscles tight for up to two minutes.