Careless toilet habits are bad for health

Bad practices include inadequate cleaning and spending too much time on toilet bowl

Going to the toilet is an everyday matter and you may not think twice about your usual hygiene routine - or lack of it.

But being careless about bathroom hygiene can be hazardous to health. Inadequate cleaning of the perianal area after moving your bowels would "leave gross faecal material which can potentially lead to skin irritation and even infection", said Dr Kevin Sng, a colorectal and general surgeon at Gleneagles Medical Centre.

A recent survey showed that one in 20 people in Singapore do not wipe off after a bowel movement.

The survey polled about 400 people aged 18 to 65 years old, and was commissioned by Kleenex, which manufactures paper products.

Giveaway signs of perianal skin irritation include itching and rashes.

Such skin irritation can worsen to infections such as cellulitis, a bacterial skin infection; or abscesses, which is a collection of pus, he said.

While not every condition can be prevented simply by maintaining good hygiene, it may help if one's perianal skin is healthy. "Very often, the root of the problems may be more complex. However, good skin hygiene is a good habit that can be easily practised with minimal effort," said Dr Sng.

This includes dry cleaning with toilet paper, wet cleaning with wet wipes and washing with water.

When you are wiping, for instance, it is generally encouraged to wipe from the front to back, especially for women. This is to reduce the chance of contamination of the front part of the genital area.

But it is not wise to overdo things either. "One should be mindful to avoid overzealous cleaning or wiping of any part of the body, including the perianal region," he said.

In addition, think twice if you have the habit of whiling away time in the toilet. It can increase your risk of developing haemorrhoids, said Dr Sng. Also known as piles, haemorrhoids are swollen and inflamed veins in the anus and lower rectum that can cause itching and bleeding. Over half of the survey participants read or surf the Net on cellphones while using the toilet.

The survey also found that nine in 10 people adopt the wrong posture when moving their bowels.

Sitting squarely on the toilet bowl, compared with squatting, may cause a person to feel constipated and strain more, said Dr Sng.

Muscles around the rectum maintain a natural "kink" which straighten when one moves his bowels. But being in a sitting position may not fully straighten this kink. This, in turn, can impede the full evacuation of stool, said Dr Sng. If you prefer not to squat, it may help to prop your feet up.

Generally, a persistent change of one's usual bowel habit is a worrying sign, said Dr Sng.

Seek medical help if you experience persistent diarrhoea, blood or mucus in stool, persistent abdominal bloatedness or pain and a loss of appetite or weight.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 20, 2015, with the headline 'Careless toilet habits are bad for health'. Print Edition | Subscribe