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Diseases And Disturbances Of The Skin

Source: A Handbook Of Health

Their Chief Causes. Skin troubles are of two main kinds according to
their cause: internal, due to the irritation of waste-poisons, or
toxins, in the blood; and external, from direct injury or irritation
of the skin from without.

The latter are often due to the wearing of too tight or too heavy
clothing, or the failure properly to wash, cleanse, and ventilate the
skin. Some of the lesser disturbances come from the chafing of collars,
wristlets, and belts, and are, of course, relieved by loosening the
clothing or substituting soft, comfortable cotton for rasping flannels.
Others come from the use of too strong soaps, or the too frequent use of
hot water, or too vigorous scrubbing of the skin, and these can be
relieved by the avoidance of their cause.

Sunburn and Freckles and how to Cure Them. Upon the hands and face,
sunburn and freckles may occur from exposure to the weather. They are
not caused necessarily by exposure to direct sunlight; as the bright
light and the cold air out of doors, also, will produce this irritating
effect upon the skin.

The best way to cure sunburn is to bathe in cool water, take a night's
rest, then go out the next day, and the day after, and take another dose
of exposure, keeping this up until your face is hardened to stand a
reasonable amount of sun. If you are in proper condition, neither your
face nor your hands will sunburn uncomfortably. If they do, except under
extreme exposure, it is a sign that you have not been living out of
doors enough.

The various face-washes and creams and dusting powders which are used
for the relief of sunburn, while they may, if mild enough, make the face
feel somewhat more comfortable for a little time, owe most of their
virtues to the fact that they are generally used at bedtime and then get
the credit for the cure which nature works while you are asleep. If you
should buy them, and keep them on your dressing-table unopened, where
you could see them before you went to bed, you would in nine cases out
of ten be just as much better in the morning as if you had used them.

The only harm done by freckles is to your vanity. They and sunburn both,
in fact, are protective actions on nature's part, filling the skin with
coloring matter, or pigment, so as to protect it, and the tissues
below, from the irritating effects of the strong rays of light.

A like deposit of pigment, in greater amounts, in the skins of races who
live in or near the tropics, gives rise to the characteristic coloring
of the black, brown, and yellow races. The pigment, or coloring matter,
is of exactly the same kind in all, from the negro to the white. The
brown race having a little less of it than the negro, the yellow race a
little less yet, and the white least of all, though there is some of it
in even the whitest of skins.

Real Skin Diseases. Most of the serious and lasting diseases of the
skin are caused by the attack of germs. Perfect cleanliness and
ventilation are the best protection against them all; but if you should
be unfortunate enough to catch one of these diseases, your doctor will
be able to give you the mild germicide or antiseptic that will kill the
particular germ that may have lodged upon your skin.

The commonest form of inflammation of the skin is called eczema, and
eight-tenths of all eczemas are due to some mild germ, and can be cured
by the appropriate poison for it.

Other diseases, particularly of the scalp, such as ringworm and
dandruff, are due to other forms of vegetable germs, and may be cured
by their proper poisons; while others, such as the so-called prairie
itch (scabies), and lice in the hair, are due to the presence of tiny
animal parasites.

The Hookworm. Another disease which enters through the skin is the now
famous hookworm, or blood-sucking parasite, which has been found to be
so common in tropical regions and in our Southern States. This parasite
has the curious habit of attaching itself by hooks surrounding its
mouth (which gave it its name), to the lining of the human intestine,
particularly its upper third. There it swings, and lives by sucking the
blood of its victim. When the worm has once attached itself in the
intestine, it may live for from five to fifteen years. All this time it
is constantly laying eggs; and these eggs, which are so tiny that they
have to be put under a microscope to be seen, pass out in the feces; and
if they are not deposited in a proper water closet, or deep vault, but
scattered about upon the surface of the soil, the eggs quickly hatch
into tiny, little wriggling worms called larvae, which are still
scarcely large enough to be seen with the naked eye.

These larvae live in the soil; and, when it is wet and muddy, they get up
between the toes of boys and girls who are going barefoot, burrow their
way in through the skin, and produce a severe itching inflammation of
the skin of the feet, known as ground-itch, toe-itch or dew-itch.
When they have worked their way through the skin, they bore on into a
blood vessel, are carried to the heart, pumped by the heart into the
lungs, and there again work their way out of the blood vessels into the
bronchial, or air tubes, crawl up these through the windpipe and voice
organ into the throat, are swallowed into the stomach, and from there
pass on into the upper intestine to attach themselves for their
blood-sucking life. If they are sufficiently numerous, their victim
becomes thin, weak, and bloodless, with pale, puffy skin, and shortness
of breath; he is easily tired on the least exertion, and ready to fall a
victim to any disease, like tuberculosis, pneumonia, or typhoid, that
may happen to attack him.

Their spread can be absolutely prevented either by the strict use of
toilets or deep vaults, thus preventing the deposit of feces anywhere
upon the surface of the ground; or by the constant wearing of shoes or
sandals, thus preventing the larvae from attacking the feet and working
their way through the skin and body into the intestine.

Fortunately, the disease is as curable as it is common, and two doses of
a proper germicide, with a day in bed, and a laxative, will promptly
cure it except in the worst cases.

The Rashes of Measles, Scarlet Fever, etc. Many of the infectious
fevers, such as measles, scarlet fever, chicken-pox, and smallpox, are
attended by rashes, or eruptions, upon the surface of the skin, due to
a special gathering or accumulation of the particular germs causing each
disease, just under the skin. When the skin sheds, or flakes off, after
the illness, the germs are shed in the scales and float, or are carried
about, and thus spread the disease to others.

These rashes or eruptions are not dangerous in themselves, though often
very uncomfortable, but help us to recognize the disease; they probably
show us the sort of thing that is going on in the deeper parts of the
body. If you imagine that your throat and bronchial tubes and lungs are
peppered as full of the disease spots as your skin is, in measles and in
scarlet fever, you will readily understand why your throat is so sore
and why you have so much tickling and coughing.

The Health of the Scalp and Hair. The scalp, being covered by hair,
does not perspire so freely as the rest of the skin of the body; but a
considerable amount of oily waste matter is poured out on it, and the
surface of its skin scales off in exactly the same way as does the rest
of the body. If this accumulation of tiny scales and grease is not
properly brushed out, it forms an excellent seed-bed for some of the
milder kinds of germs that attack the skin; and a scurfy, itchy
condition of the scalp is set up, known as dandruff.

The best way to keep the scalp clean of these accumulations of greasy
scales is by vigorous and regular brushing with a moderately stiff, but
flexible, bristle brush. Wire brushes should not be used, as the wires
scratch and irritate the delicate scalp and do more harm than good. If
you watch a groom brushing and currying the coat of a thoroughbred
horse, you will get a fair idea of hew you ought to treat your own scalp
at least twice a day, night and morning.

If this currying of the hair be thoroughly done, and the head washed
with soap and hot water about once a week for short hair and twice a
month for long hair, most of the dangers of dandruff and of other
infections of the scalp will be avoided. One thing to be remembered is,
don't brush too hard or too deep. There is an old saying and a good one,
You can't brush the scalp too little, or the hair too much.

Wetting the hair for the purpose of slicking it or combing it, is
about as bad a thing as could be done; for the moisture sets up a sort
of rancid fermentation in the natural oil of the scalp, giving the
well-known sour smell to hair that is combed instead of brushed, and
furnishing a splendid soil for germs and bugs of all sorts to breed in.
There is no objection to boys' and men's wetting their hair in cold
water as often as they wish, provided that they rub it thoroughly dry
afterward and give it a brisk currying with the brush.

Hair oils and greases of all sorts are sanitary nuisances, and mere
half-civilized and lazy substitutes for proper brushing and washing.
There is no drug known to medicine which will cause hair to grow, or
make it thicker or curlier. All hair tonics claiming to do this are

Corns, Calluses, and Warts. Our skin not only made our hair, teeth,
and nails, but still retains in every part a trace of its nail-making
powers, so that under pressure or irritation, it can thicken up into a
heavy leather-like substance which we call callus. This is naturally
and healthfully present in the soles of the feet and the palms of the
hands. Savage, or barbarous, races who wear no shoes get the skin of
their soles thickened into a regular human leather, almost half an inch
thick, and as tough as rawhide. A somewhat similar condition develops in
the palms of the hands of those who work hard with spades, axes, or
other tools.

Any good process carried to excess becomes bad, and this is true of this
power of callus formation in the skin; for parts of it which are under
constant pressure, like the surface of the toes inside the shoe, and
particularly of the outside toes, the little and the big toe, develop
under that pressure patches of thickened, horny skin, which we call
corns. These patches start to grow into cone-shaped projections or
buttons; but being prevented from growing outward by the pressure of the
shoe, they turn upon themselves and burrow into the skin itself, and we
get the well-known ingrowing corn.

If there is anything in the human body which we ought to be thoroughly
ashamed of, it is corns; for they are caused by our own vanity, and
nothing else, in cramping our feet into shoes one or two sizes too small
for them. There are a number of things that can be done to relieve the
discomfort of the corn, but the only sure way is to remove its cause,
namely, the tight shoe.

Under other kinds of irritation, the skin has the power of growing
curious little button-like buds, or projections, which we call warts.
These are commonest in childhood, and generally disappear at about
twelve or fifteen years of age, when we no longer delight in dirt, and
glory in mud pies.

They can be produced upon the hands of grown men and women by irritating
fluids and substances, such as wet sugar in the case of bakers and
confectioners, and various color-stains in dye works. They seldom last
for more than a few months, and usually narrow at their base and drop
off, when the particular irritation that caused them ceases. On this
account it is seldom worth while to try to remove them by burning with
acids or cutting them off; and it is best not to pick at, or irritate,
or scratch them too much.

Next: The Plumbing And Sewering Of The Body

Previous: Care Of The Nails

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