Avoid 6 Health Woes That Ruin a Date

Experts offer tips on preventing embarrassing problems that can derail a promising relationship.

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

You've landed the date of your dreams. Now what? You've got to do more than primp to avoid being branded a one-date dud. You also must squelch those potential date "bombs" -- minor, but embarrassing, health problems. From bad breath to allergiesallergies, here's a look at the worst offenders and how you can ensure they won't make your date ditch you.

Bad Breath

There's nothing like dragon breath to scare off a first date. Ninety percent of the time, the culprit is thriving right on the surface of your tongue, says Richard Price, DDS, consumer advisor for the American Dental Association. "The dirtier your mouth, the more places there are for bacteria to hide," he says.

But having a clean mouth doesn't necessarily preclude you from bad breath. "Even in the healthiest of mouths, you can still suffer from it," Price tells WebMD. The combination of lingering bacteria on the tongue, when "caught" in the sticky mucus we produce -- up to two quarts per day -- is prime fodder for bad breath. "The bacteria get covered with mucus, expelling by-products when you breathe," Price explains.

So how do you fight bad breath? "You've got to physically remove the offending organism," Price says.

One effective, low-tech way is to scrape the mouth with a toothbrush or tongue scraper, a piece of metal that Price likens to an Emory board. "In some countries, tongue scraping is considered part of everyday hygiene," Price tells WebMD.

He also recommends using toothpaste that contains an antibacterial agent, such as chlorine dioxide.

Flossing regularly to remove old food lodged between teeth is another must. It doesn't smell good in the Dumpster; nor does it smell good in your mouth.

Maintaining an adequate amount of moisture in the mouth also helps. Price suggests using a humidifier in the winter, drinking adequate amounts of water throughout the day, or munching on an apple, a solution he calls "better than a Bianca blast." The less moisture in the mouth, Price explains, the more bad-smelling vapors the bacteria release into the mouth.

Also, consider what you put in your mouth. "If it smells going in, it's probably going to smell going out," Price says. Prime offenders include garlic, tobacco, and onions.

Dealing With Sweat

You'll never get a goodnight kiss if your shirt's soaked with sweat and you smell like a locker room. That's bad news for those who start dripping with sweat the minute their anxiety level shoots up. The good news is this: There are a lot of effective ways to prevent an onslaught of sweat from turning you into a stink bomb.

What works, and what doesn't? "Showering lowers bacteria temporarily. Deodorants lower bacterial counts for up to a day," says Gabe Mirkin, MD, a practicing physician in the Washington, D.C. area. The role of diet remains an area of controversy. "Greasy, fried foods are thought by some to promote body odor, but the results have proven inconclusive."

For those who sweat excessively (a condition called hyperhidrosis), new treatments have emerged. Botulinum toxin, known for its ability to reduce wrinkles, also reduces sweat by interfering with nerve endings that control sweat. Antiperspirants with up to 20% aluminum chloride block pores so sweat has nowhere to go. There is even a medicine, taken orally, that can prevent sweat glands from stimulating sweat. Called anticholinergics and used to treat depressiondepression and other mental illnesses, they can cause a number of side effects and are used rarely.

Because, sweating plays an important role in cooling the body and ridding it of impurities, measures to halt this natural function of the body should be approached with caution and under the guidance of a dermatologist, Mirkin says.

Gastrointestinal Woes

Getting a dose of your dinner after you've eaten, doubling over with gas pains, or, worse yet, expelling gas -- none of these gastrointestinal nightmares will win you a second date.

To tame the storm you've got to coat it with a layer of antacids. Preferably, use one that contains alginic acid, urges Patricia Raymond, MD, a gastroenterologist. "When you take a big slug of it by mouth, it sits on top of whatever you've eaten, so the stuff coming up is not acidic," she says.

While you can shrug off occasional acid refluxacid reflux, regular bouts can signal something more serious. "If you're going through a fair amount of antacids -- more than a couple times a week -- see your gastroenterologist to make sure you don't have something more serious," Raymond suggests.

Where does gas come from? "Either you've swallowed gas or it's generated in the bowels," Raymond tells WebMD.

Yes, you can actually "eat" gas, or air. There's even a name for ingesting air: aerophagia. Raymond explains the various ways that air gets absorbed. Drinking through straws is a common way. Lots of people tend to swallow air when they're nervous, notes Raymond. Certain ways of chewing can also cause you to swallow air. The good news about gas produced via aerophagia? It smells, well, just like air.

If your gas smells far less innocuous than air, chances are you've eaten something that is gas-producing. Raymond recommends doing a "food diary" to determine and eliminate the offending food. Dairy products, whey, and cruciferous vegetables top the list of gas-inducing foods, she explains.

Once you've identified the culprit? "Get it out of your life," Raymond advises.

Annoying Allergy Symptoms

Sneezing all over your date is sure to put a damper on things. Whether you suffer from this or other annoying allergy symptoms like a runny nose or itchy, watery eyes, you'll want to rein them in before a big date.

The first step toward stifling sniffles and such is to find out whether they're related to seasonal rhinitis, which usually strikes in spring and fall, or if perennial (year-round) allergiesallergies are to blame. Once you've homed in on the cause, you can avoid triggers and, if necessary, use medications to keep symptoms at bay.

If you suffer from seasonal rhinitis, taking your date on a stroll through a garden on a warm spring day or a hay ride in the fall will probably not score you any points -- unless you prepare ahead of time.

Inhaled nasal steroids (such as Flonase and Nasonex) have become the "gold standard" treatment for fighting symptoms of seasonal rhinitis. Marie-Helene Sajous, MD, a fellow at Johns Hopkins Asthma and Allergy Center, recommends that seasonal rhinitis sufferers start using the inhaled steroids daily about a week before allergic-inducing culprits like leaves, molds, and grasses are out in full force, and continue their use throughout the season.

But, cautions Sajous, watch out for nasal decongestant sprays (such as Afrin). "With initial use, they resolve congestion. But they can cause dependence, and a rebound effect. If you use them for more than five to seven days, you'll need more and more relief, and congestion will worsen," she says.

Nasal washes, however, can be used liberally. The premise is simple: you just squirt a combination of water, salt, and baking soda, found in any drug store, into each nostril once or twice a day. "Nasal washes rinse out a lot of the allergens and mucus. When mucus gets stuck, it's like a dirty swamp," says Annie Lent, MD, an allergist with Denver's National Jewish Medical and Research Center. Nasal washes also make other medications more effective, explains Lent, because they don't have to fight through mucus to get to the source.

If nasal steroids don't wipe out symptoms entirely, antihistamines usually work to treat what Sajous calls "breakthrough symptoms." Unlike antihistamines you may recall from your youth, which tend to knock users into a fatiguefatigue-induced stupor, newer, second-generation ones generally won't cause you to fall asleep on your date. Some of the nonsedating antihistamines available are Claritin, Allegra, and Clarinex.

Although users of second-generation antihistamines experience fewer or milder symptoms, side effects like drowsiness can occur. Alcohol can make them worse. So if you've just popped an antihistamine, avoid sharing a bottle of wine with your date.

If you're plagued by perennial allergiesallergies, it's critical to avoid contact with the culprit to keep symptoms at bay. "Most people with perennial allergies are sensitive to dust mites and animal dander," Sajous tells WebMD. She advises these folks to use dust mite-proof mattress covers, wash sheets often in hot water, keep animals out of the bedroom (and the house, if possible), and use a dehumidifier to reduce the probability of mold.


Anxious about your upcoming date and prone to acne outbursts? Calm down, or you may find your face peppered with pimples. "Stress can trigger acne; it's probably related to rising cortisol levels," says dermatologist Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD, a professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School.

Treatments for chronic acne are often administered over a long-term basis. Topical retinoids (creams derived from vitamin A) work by normalizing the way the skin matures in the face, Crutchield explains. "With acne, skin cells don't mature properly, and they block the pores. It's like the old country buffet for bacteria," he notes. Antibiotics, both oral and topical, decrease the bacterial population.

Then there are newer-generation treatments. The Aramis laser directly targets the sebaceous glands, where the oily debris that causes pores to clog originates. Zeno, an electronic hand-held device, "zaps" acne with heat, killing the bacteria that cause it to thrive.

"In this day and age, there's no reason people should have to suffer from terrible acne," Crutchfield tells WebMD.


Imagine: your date reaches over to squeeze your hand and feels a rough, bumpy wart instead.

While some stubborn warts grow steadily for years, they can also develop overnight, Crutchfield notes. Unfortunately, they don't disappear as quickly as they may pop up.

"They're caused by a viral infection. And the only way to get rid [of a wart] is for your immune system to recognize and fight it," Crutchfield tells WebMD. Quick strategies -- like burning, freezing, and using a laser to get them off -- can be part, but not the whole, solution. Only when the immune system is activated against the warts will they be eliminated permanently, he explains. Crutchfield urges wart sufferers to work with a dermatologist to find the best, most comprehensive method of eradicating the ugly date busters.

Published May 15, 2006.

Show Sources

SOURCES: Richard Price, DDS, consumer advisor, American Dental Association. Gabe Mirkin, MD, practicing physician, Washington, D.C. Patricia Raymond, MD, Virginia-based gastroenterologist. Marie-Helene Sajous, fellow, Johns Hopkins Asthma and Allergy Center. Annie Lent, MD, allergist, National Jewish Medical and Research Center, Denver. Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD, dermatologist; professor, University of Minnesota Medical School.
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