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Updated: September 2, 2012 14:13 IST

A mirror to your health

Geeta Padmanabhan
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GLOWING SKIN Indicates all-round well-being Photo: K. Murali Kumar
GLOWING SKIN Indicates all-round well-being Photo: K. Murali Kumar

It’s worth doing a skin check everyday. You could detect dermatological or even other problems that could be cured with timely care, says GEETA PADMANABHAN

When Selvi (60) scratched the circular skin-break in the middle of her palm, she was vaguely happy. Didn't it mean she would come into money? It grew a bit, and a thick white layer of skin covered the area. She ignored it till a doctor said, “This looks like eczema. Do you have it anywhere else?”

Ice Cube (O'Shea Jackson) may not have meant quite this when he rapped, “Check yourself before you wreck yourself,” but scanning yourself in the mirror daily for a couple of minutes may help spot the early warning signs of ailments. “The skin is the mirror of internal disorders,” says Dr. Ravichandran, Dermatologist, Apollo Hospitals, Chennai. “Self-examination of the skin’s surface can help you detect abnormalities early and you can get help well in time. A black mole changing its appearance might be an early feature of skin cancer.”

Ready for a quick check?

Start with the finger-nails. A dark U-line at the bottom could be blood pigment due to a minor injury, a mole or (rarely) a symptom of melanoma. Yellow/brown stripes on the nail beds are a sign of cell damage, possibly from melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, writes Ariel Ostad, dermatologist in New York City. With early detection and treatment, about 95 per cent of cases are curable.

White half-moons (lunulae) are normal, not to worry, says Dr. Ravichandran. But if you see long, coloured, horizontal bands on the nail surface, and have been feeling unusually tired, it could be bad news from the kidneys. They are probably not filtering out protein which means you're losing protein faster than it can be replaced. You may want a urine test to avoid kidney failure. Horizontal ridges reflect damage in the nail matrix from illness, vertical ridges can be a result of skin diseases such as lichen planus, says Dr. Ravichandran.

What if my scalp itched all the time, I asked. Could be caused by dryness, a strong shampoo, dandruff or it may be an allergic reaction to hair colour, he says. If you're snowing from the scalp, be reasonably sure it's dandruff. “Scalp psoriasis is a troublesome condition and needs to be addressed.” Also re-work your to-do list. Intense stress pushes your body to produce excess amounts of the hormone cortisol, which, like a restless genie released from a bottle, hacks your immune system (more colds), unbalances your metabolism (you put on weight), and dries your scalp. Use a good shampoo to de-flake your hair, get more sleep, breathe more deeply, and shrink your schedule.

When you're bonding with your mirror, remember to put out your tongue. See a layer of white wash? Reach for the tongue-cleaner. No use? It just could be candidiasis (yeast-fungal infection). A colour-wash (yellow, orange coating) is the result of acid reflux. While you sleep, the undigested stuff in your stomach rises and leaves your tongue coated in digestive acids. Mmm... you are in for bad breath as well. Take antacids, say no to acidic/spicy food. If tongue-colouring persists, consult a doctor.

Now stretch your arms parallel to your head. Dark patches underarm is a condition called acanthosis nigricans related to obesity, says Dr. Ravichandran. Don't rule out infection from bacterial/fungal organisms or allergic dermatitis from body spray, deo use. A patch of rough, dark skin in the armpits could signal pre-diabetes, says Michael Smith, WebMD's chief medical editor. “Excess insulin in your bloodstream can cause skin cells to multiply, leading to a build-up of tissue and melanin. This makes the skin look darker and feel thicker — often in the armpits, neck, or groin.” Make an appointment for a blood test, he says.

Dark circles

Those dark, under-eye circles don't go away after litres of cucumber juice! “Nutritional deficiencies could be the reason,” says Dr. Ravichandran. And if you are not browsing all night, consider allergies. An allergen hits your body, which in response releases histamine; this chemical makes blood vessels swell with blood and other fluids, and dark patches appear where the skin is thinnest. Blackening of skin around the eyes and on the brow is usually an allergic reaction to hair colour. Get a skin test done to find the allergy-causer.

Small nodules on the white of your eye are a symptom of a harmless condition called pinguecula. Keep your eyes moist with lubricating drops and wear shades outdoors to prevent them from growing. Now, go get your magnifying glass. If you see small, soft lumps that are white/waxy on your eyelids, knees or elbows, it could be bad news. See your doctor for a cholesterol check. Be prepared for medicines and lifestyle changes to bring the levels down.

Back to peeling skin. Psoriasis is the most common condition and is characterised by silvery-white scaly skin lesions. It has a tendency to spread. Detect it? Start treatment at once. “Hair/skin/nail care forms an important aspect of a wellness programme,” says Dr. Ravichandran.

How frequently do you self-check?

Excessive hair loss?

* Could be vitamin deficiency, stress, sleeplessness.

* Count in dandruff.

* Also check for a thyroid disorder.

* It makes hair feel coarse, brittle.

RELATED NEWS

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