Questions About Aging That You’re Too Embarrassed to Ask*
New research has shattered some of our most closely held beliefs.
Q. Argh, facial hair! Is there any way to get rid of it?
A. Many women are at some point plagued by errant hairs on their chin or upper lip, says Ranella Hirsch, MD, past president of the American Society of Cosmetic Dermatology and Aesthetic Surgery. The growth can be exacerbated by age-related hormonal fluctuations—but just because it’s normal doesn’t mean it isn’t unsettling. Hirsch says that the most cost-efficient treatment is a surgical laser that targets the melanin (which is what makes the hair darker). Shaving is another option, and Hirsch says razoring off the offenders won’t cause them to grow back coarser (despite what you may have heard). You can also use tweezers, but you risk causing an ingrown hair if you don’t wait until the hairs are long enough, and that method can test the patience of the magnifying-glass obsessed. For those with a low pain tolerance, Hirsch suggests threading, in which a trained specialist pulls individual hairs out by the root. No matter which method you choose, the hair will eventually return. However, you can slow the regrowth with the prescription cream eflornithine (the brand name is Vaniqa), which interferes with an enzyme in the follicle.
Q. I’m thinking about Whoopi Goldberg all the time now and her jokes about surprise tinkles….So, really, what are my options if I have that “little spritz” when I cough or do jumping jacks?
A. Pads may help you feel more comfortable, but stress incontinence is curable, says Melissa R. Kaufman, MD, PhD, a urologist, surgeon and an assistant professor at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee. Docs like Kaufman often refer patients to a women’s health physical therapist, who can give them exercises to strengthen pelvic floor muscles, a diet and exercise plan to lose the extra weight that may be putting pressure on the bladder and urethra, and advice like cutting back on caffeine and emptying the bladder more frequently. Surgery is a more invasive option. The sling procedure involves using strips of the body’s tissue or a synthetic mesh material to create a supportive hammock around the bladder neck and urethra. Kaufman is also part of a clinical trial of a new procedure that involves taking cells from a patient’s thigh and implanting them in the urethra to rejuvenate and strengthen the tissues. (For more information, or to see if you’re eligible to participate, see researchsui.com.)
Q. I love the idea of sex with my husband, but the experience is…eh…somewhere on the comfort scale between a tooth cleaning and a leg wax. What’s going on?
A. This is a near-universal question from menopausal women (and those going through perimenopause) who suddenly feel itching, burning or pain during sex, says Kaufman. If you’ve ruled out a urinary tract infection, these symptoms could be due to something called atrophic vaginitis. As the body loses estrogen with age, the lining of the vagina starts to thin, and the tissues become red and irritated. Although regular sex helps keep the vaginal tissues healthy, it can also have the opposite effect and make the pain worse. “I’ll see an older male patient come into the urologist’s office asking for Viagra, and his wife will be in the next room telling me about how painful sex has become,” Kaufman says. Typical treatments include vaginal moisturizers, lubricants (silicone tends to last longer than water-based) and topical estrogen creams. Visit your gynecologist and talk over the various treatments.
Q. When did I become this delicate thing that bruises at the slightest touch?
Hirsch explains that age makes your blood vessels more fragile, and so does tissue damage due to sun exposure (as if we needed another reminder to wear sunscreen). Blood thinners like baby aspirin, which many doctors prescribe for older patients to take daily, can also make the vessels even more vulnerable. So you’ll not only bruise more easily, but the spots may appear darker. The good news is that this type of discoloration is benign and may clear up over a few weeks or months. The bad news is there’s nothing you can really do to make it fade faster, and in some cases, it doesn’t fade at all.
Q. Why do I suddenly feel like the Wicked Witch of the West?
A. This question is also known as “Wait—is that a wart on my neck?” It’s likely not. Skin tags are small flesh-colored polyps, and while you may start noticing them in your thirties, 60 percent of people have some by the time they are 70, says Isaac M. Neuhaus, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at the University of California in San Francisco. Scientists don’t know exactly what causes them, but they tend to appear in areas where there’s a lot of friction, like the armpits, the neck, and underneath the breasts (they also run in families, and are associated with large gains in weight). Neuhaus reassures that they’re benign, but if they bother you, a dermatologist can snip them off with surgical scissors or freeze or burn them off. The procedure is fast and mostly painless.
*Portions of the article reprinted from: http://www.oprah.com/health/Questions-About-Aging