18 January 2006

Things you can tell by looking at them

At work you and your colleagues probably aim to look your best - unless you work at But there are physical signs that are easy give-aways of health problems.

At work you and your colleagues probably aim to look your best - unless you work at, where the idea is to look dead. But there are physical signs that are easy give-aways of health problems. Here’s what to look for.

Some things you can look for without seeming to stare; other body parts are difficult to inspect across a boardroom table without inviting nasty comments. The former include:

The ears.
A vertical crease in the earlobe means trouble, of the sort that claims one in three lives in the Western World in the form of heart disease and strokes - arteriosclerosis. The crease is caused by clogging of the arteries that feed oxygenated blood to the ear. As the disease progresses, the crease will deepen. If you spot it, you could advise the owner of the ear to see his or her doctor. Some serious changes in lifestyle are likely to the result of the visit: a low-fat diet, a programme of exercise, cutting back on booze and caffeine, and - obviously - giving up smoking. Saving the boss’s life may be beneficial to your wealth.

The skin:
Acne: if your colleague has acne around the mouth, it may mean he or she has an intolerance to fluoride. Using non-fluoride toothpaste will sort it out. Simple enough, but your colleague will thank you for helping make the acne go away.

Acne van also be a symptom of stress or a hormone imbalance. Many people are sensitive about their appearance, so tread softly around the subject of skin eruptions. Depending on the individual, recommending a good dermatologist may earn you a muttered word thanks or the admonition to mind your own business.

Skin tags are funny little stalks of flesh that you’re likely to spot on the neck, eyelids or shoulders, or - depending on your line of work - the armpits or groin. They appear quite routinely after pregnancy and age 40, but can also be a symptom of intestinal polyps, which are easily treated.

Most of us have been in a lift with someone whose breath stripped the paintwork, but breath can be a handy indicator of some serious health problems. Garlic breath may mean well, garlic consumption. It can also mean that the immune and digestive systems are a bit run-down, resulting in a bloom of bacteria in the mouth. Asking the person to stand further away may not help the atmosphere in the office, but a course of vitamins and plenty of fresh greens will.

Almonds on the breath could mean a liver disorder; while a smell like pears or acetone could mean low blood sugar. If the breather is a diabetic, this is cause for concern, as it means their blood sugar is dangerously low.

Body odour:
If you work on an oil rig and there’s no running water, we’re sorry to hear about it - please stay downwind of us. For those of us who work in air-conditioned offices, here are a few guidelines.

If someone smells like boiled cabbage, it could mean he or she is an alcoholic, because a liver that’s taking a pounding produces molecules containing sulphur, which gives cabbage its aromatic tang. Counselling is recommended. - (William Smook, Health24 correspondent)


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