That's not the start of a joke—that is the joke. Men don't go to doctors unless they're in serious pain or really spooked about something. We have our reasons, as squishy as they may be. In a 2007 American Academy of Family Physicians survey, 58 percent of men cited specific factors, such as lack of time, lack of insurance, and lack of extreme symptoms, as reasons for avoiding physicians. But another 6 percent actually gave the grown-up equivalent of "the dog ate my homework," saying "something else" always prevents them from going. (Learn the seven pains you should never ignore.)
The head-in-the-sand approach isn't much of a health-maintenance strategy. Sure, a number of miscellaneous ailments resolve themselves without medical attention. But denial can also leave you dead. A smarter move: Regularly assess your health with a few morning inspections that are easy and accurate. They aren't replacements for routine doctor visits—our legal department wants that made clear—but these DIY checkups can help you sort the trivial from the troubling.
Gums of HorrorWhat's the big deal? Any redness, inflammation, or bleeding of your gums might be due to gingivitis, a condition that can progress to periodontal disease. This, in turn, is linked to heart disease—the number one killer of men. How? The bacteria from periodontal disease enter your bloodstream, potentially causing inflammation elsewhere in your body, including your heart. The result: atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. What's more, periodontal disease can signal diabetes. "Blood vessels deliver oxygen and nourishment to body tissues and carry away the tissues' waste products," says Robert Pick, D.D.S., a gum specialist at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine. "Diabetes causes blood vessels to thicken, which slows the flow of nutrients and the removal of harmful wastes. This can weaken the gum tissue's resistance to infection."
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Gums that are salmon-pink in light-skinned people, or a bit darker in dark-skinned people, indicate that your mouth is healthy and bacteria are in check, says Dr. Pick. But if your gums are red and swollen, and they bleed after brushing, you may have gum disease—or worse. Begin daily flossing, and see your dentist for an intense, below-the-gumline cleaning and application of antibiotics.
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Clogged Nasal Passages
What's the big deal? Take a deep breath. Did you inhale through your nose, or through your mouth? If it was your mouth, then your nasal passages may be obstructed, probably due to allergic rhinitis, the symptoms of which can include sneezing, itchy eyes, runny nose, and general stuffiness. Or if those symptoms accompany coughing and wheezing, you might have asthma. "Asthma can permanently reduce lung function if it's not treated quickly," says Bradley Marple, M.D., a rhinologist at the University of Texas Southwestern medical center. Clogged nasal passages can also contribute to sleep apnea, a condition that's usually also accompanied by snoring and about 20 pounds of extra body weight. Consult a physician right away if you have all three symptoms. (Discover 12 ways to beat the worst health problems.)
To flush out the allergens, pollutants, and mucus that either cause or worsen congestion, try a nasal lavage before bed. Mix ? teaspoon of salt into 2 cups of warm water, and fill a bulb syringe with the solution. Bend over a sink, cock your head to one side, and insert the tip of the syringe no more than a half inch into one of your nostrils. Squeeze the bulb until all the saline solution has run out through the other nostril. Repeat on the other side. (Not good with recipes? Try Simply Saline, an OTC saline solution with a built-in applicator.)
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