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Health, Beauty & Fashion

Don't be a fashion victim

A fashionable wardrobe can make you look good but it may also exact a toll on your health
The Straits Times - March 16, 2012
By: Imran Jalal
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Don't be a fashion victim

Victoria Beckham tottered around in five-inch Louboutin platforms while six months pregnant and is partial to tight sheath dresses that hug her tiny frame.

While she looks great, she is also a prime candidate for broken ankles and nerve compression ailments.

However, the celebrity fashion designer has not got it all wrong, health-wise. Instead of carrying her designer handbags daintily near the wrist, she prefers to hang them in the crook of her arm, near her elbows.

Dr Guo Changming, senior consultant at the department of orthopaedic surgery at the Singapore General Hospital, says: 'The nearer the bag is to your elbow, the less intense the force exerted. This reduces the chances of injuries such as golfer's elbow or tennis elbow.'

Tennis elbow is inflammation, soreness or pain on the outside of the upper arm near the elbow, while golfer's elbow affects the inner side of the upper arm near the elbow.

While Dr Guo cannot ascertain the number of handbag-related injuries he has treated, he says that he has seen a 10 per cent rise in the past five years in the number of spinal and back injuries related to carrying heavy backpacks and laptop bags.

Yes, there is evidence that being fashionable can be bad for you. Even shopping can be a health hazard.

A recent study by the NUS Business School and The Chinese University of Hong Kong reports that lugging heavy shopping bags can make one feel more stressed.

Their study of about 600 participants, which will be published in next month's issue of the Journal Of Consumer Research, reports that people with heavy shopping bags tend to subconsciously dwell on depressing issues (see Page 11).

Knee joint problems, irritable bowel syndrome and glaucoma can also result from wearing, respectively, high heels, tight clothing and neckties.

In January, an article in the The Journal Of Applied Physiology reported that women who wear high heels have shorter and more forceful strides and their feet are perpetually extended and toes pointed.

Foot ailments can have other repercussions.

A survey last year of 1,000 people by the American Podiatric Medical Association found that 72 per cent of Americans do not work out due to foot pain, prompting concerns that foot pain can deter people from exercising and, hence, lead to obesity.

As if these statistics are not sobering enough, your clothes may also be causing you harm without you realising it.

If you leave your jackets and cardigans in your office every day, for instance, you may be offering them as breeding grounds for bacteria and fungi.

Dr Lim Kar Seng, consultant dermatologist with Dermatology Associates says, wearing these jackets can cause bacterial or fungal infections, which give rise to itchy red bumps on the skin.

He says: 'If the office environment is not very clean, the jackets should not be left exposed for longer than 48 hours before they are washed.'

Urban takes a look at some common fashion-related health hazards.



Danger: When it comes to accessorising these days, it is a case of the more the merrier.

Shoulder duster earrings, whopper-sized cocktail rings, chunky necklaces and stacked bangles may be the rage, but they can also cause injuries.

Take big dangling earrings, for instance. While they add oomph to a boring ensemble, these large accessories, when worn for extended periods, can cause your ear lobes to stretch or even tear.

Strains and skin allergies are other problems associated with wearing jewellery.

Docs say: Heavy earrings may increase your risk of developing keloids or big red scars on the ear lobes, says Dr Lim Kar Seng, consultant dermatologist at Dermatology Associates, a chain of clinics in Paragon, Gleneagles Medical Centre and Parkway East Medical Centre.

There have been cases overseas of entire ear lobes being torn off from extended wear.

Dr Adam Kolker, an associate clinical professor of surgery at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City, told More magazine last year that the weight of earrings can wear out ear tissues.

'You start with a piercing that has about 5 to 10mm of skin below it,' said Dr Kolker. 'Over time, the lower skin will stretch as it is pulled down by the weight of the earring.'

Apart from heavy earrings, chunky necklaces are also a fashion bane.

Chiropractor David Liew, who owns Chiropractic Health & Wellness Clinic at The Central, says neck strain is the most common complaint his patients have pertaining to jewellery.

Chunky necklaces can also cause muscle pull, hunched shoulders and a strained back in extreme cases.

Skin allergies are another problem commonly linked to jewellery.

Minute amounts of nickel - a silver-white metal that is often found in earrings and costume jewellery - can cause rashes.

Watch for symptoms such as swelling, redness and irritation where your skin comes into contact with the jewellery, advises Dr Lim.

What you can do: Here are several warning signs to watch for when wearing heavy earrings: If your ear lobe or the entire ear is stretched, or if you feel pain and discomfort, this means they are too heavy and should not be worn.

If you have to wear them, it should be for just a short while and no more than three hours a day.

The same goes for heavier necklaces.



Danger: The next time someone tells you to loosen up, it may be wise to heed that advice.

Two studies - one by researchers at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary in 2003 and another by researchers from the Royal Victoria Eye & Ear Hospital in Dublin in 2005 - have found that a person's eye pressure increases slightly after three minutes of wearing a tight necktie. Both studies reported that the eye pressure drops back to the original level after 15 minutes.

Pressure on the eye is a serious issue because it can cause glaucoma, a condition which damages the optic nerve.

A glaucoma patient can lose his peripheral vision initially and his central vision as well if the condition is left untreated.

Doc says: Dr Johnson Tan, associate consultant at the National Healthcare Group Eye Institute at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, says it may be an exaggeration to conclude that wearing tight neckties can lead to the development of glaucoma.

He says he has not seen any cases to suggest such a link.

He adds: 'These two studies used very small sample sizes and there have not been any other studies conducted. Therefore, there is no clear evidence to suggest wearing neckties can increase the risk of glaucoma.'

He does point out, however, that in theory, any tight constraints around the neck can prevent the flow of blood to the heart, resulting in increased pressure within the head and neck veins.

In an article last month, The Wall Street Journal quoted a 2010 study of South Korean workers who reported experiencing a limitation of movement in the neck and heightened muscle tension in the back and shoulders as a result of wearing neckties.

However, Dr Tan says the report should be put in perspective.

He says: 'It can happen only when the constraint around the neck is extremely tight, such as in the case of strangulation.'

Neckties have also gained another kind of unsavoury reputation - as a repository of germs. This is because they are usually not washed as frequently as other garments.

Since 2006, the British Medical Association has recommended its members do away with 'functionless' items like neckties as superbugs can be carried on them.

The Telegraph quoted microbiologists as saying micro-organisms, such as c. difficile, may lurk in grubby neckties for up to 80 days.

Your ties can be stained or contaminated by the surroundings or things that they come into contact with.

What you can do: Dr Tan recommends that there be a comfortable allowance of at least two fingers between the collar and the neck when knotting your tie.

Also, rotate among at least a dozen ties each month and send them for dry-cleaning every month or so.




Danger: Sporting a 'muffin top' - unsightly bulges around the waist - is not the worst thing that can happen when you wear pants that are too tight.

You also run the risk of developing more serious problems, from irritable bowel syndrome and yeast infections to nerve compressions.

American physician Octavio Bessa coined the term 'Tight Pants Syndrome' in 1993 after he realised that his male patients who wore snug-fitting jeans were experiencing abdominal discomfort, heartburn and belching after their meals.

Tight clothing, such as shapewear, can also compress the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve, a major nerve which stretches from the abdomen to the outer thigh.

This condition, known as meralgia paresthetica, can cause tingling, numbness and a burning sensation in the outer thighs.

Docs say: Dr Pang Boon Chuan, a consultant at the department of neurosurgery at the National Neuroscience Institute (NNI), says tight jeans and belts are known to cause meralgia paresthetica.

But he estimates that the NNI treats fewer than 10 such cases a year. Obesity, rather than ill-fitting clothes, is the most likely cause for cases of meralgia paresthethica here, he adds.

Adult bones are sturdy enough to withstand the constriction from tight clothing compared to teenagers and young children, says Dr Guo Changming, senior consultant at the department of orthopaedic surgery at Singapore General Hospital.

But if you gird your body in these constricting items, such as a corset, for too long, your abdominal and back muscles are likely to ache even after you take off the garments.

'That's because the muscles have become lazy and rely on them for support,' explains Dr Guo.

Chiropractor David Liew adds that muscle groups will tighten, squeezing the nerves, while spinal bones may lose their normal motion and position as the body tries to readjust itself.

'This will create a chain reaction where the gait and overall posture will be compromised,' he says.

Your skin could also suffer if you often wear clothes that are too tight.

Dr Lim Kar Seng, a consultant dermatologist at Dermatology Associates, says cases of chafed skin and skin irritations caused by tight clothes that lead to yeast infections are quite common. He sees five to six of such infections caused by snug clothing a month.

Other skin problems caused by the pressure of garments on the skin are dermatitis and bumps called urticaria.

'If the skin around the area breaks down, yeast infection is also common,' he says.

Furthermore, the build-up of sweat under tight clothing can cause a red, itchy rash called occlusion dermatitis or an infection of the hair follicles called folliculitis.

The latter is the inflammation of hair follicles caused by friction from clothing or blockage of the follicles.

Symptoms include rash and itching or red pimple-like spots in the affected region.

If untreated, the folliculitis can worsen and become boils.

What you can do: Don't wear tight clothing for more than three hours at a stretch. Stick to sweat-absorbent undergarments made of breathable fabrics like cotton to prevent fungal infection.




Danger: We all know heavy bags can put a strain on your shoulders. But researchers from the NUS Business School and The Chinese University of Hong Kong have found that they cause other problems too.

Their study of about 600 participants, which will be published in next month's issue of the Journal Of Consumer Research, found that people bogged down by heavy shopping bags tend to subconsciously dwell on grave or depressing issues.

Docs say: While the link between mental health and lugging heavy loads has not been fully established, constant pain has been known to disrupt one's sleep and routines.

But one thing which is certain is that heavy bags are a burden.

Dr Guo Changming, senior consultant at the department of orthopaedic surgery at Singapore General Hospital, says: 'When a heavy load pulls the shoulders down, it tugs on the nerves that join the shoulders to the neck, causing pain.'

Numbness and/or pins and needles in the arms and upper body may also occur when the load on one shoulder pulls on the nerves on that side of the body.

Chiropractor David Liew adds: 'Your body's natural reaction to the extra weight is to exert more force and energy to withstand and to balance the entire weight.'

This causes muscle tightness around your shoulders and back as the muscles have no time to rest.

The resultant poor blood circulation and nerve compression can lead to the accumulation of lactic acid in the muscles. This acid build-up causes soreness while the nerve compression causes numbness in limbs.

Dr Guo says one's weight, height and build determine how much one can carry. But most medical experts, including those from the American Chiropractic Association, advise that your bag should not be more than 10 per cent of your body weight.

One can also develop Bag Lady Droop, a condition in which one shoulder drops lower than the other due to the unequal distribution of load on your shoulders over an extended period of time.

What you can do: There is no solution other than opting for lighter bags or simply switching the bag from shoulder to shoulder every five to 10 minutes.

In general, a backpack is regarded as the best option because it distributes the weight equally on both shoulders.



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