Dr Bernadette Carr answers your questions on bad breath and athlete’s foot

Find out if a cold can cause bad breath and if you can treat athlete’s foot with over-the-counter remedies.

Q. I had a chest infection and a cold in recent times and, for a couple of weeks afterwards, I had really bad taste in my mouth when I woke up. 

Occasionally I had bad breath during the day. Could these be related to the respiratory illnesses?

A. Bad breath (halitosis) can happen for many reasons. 

Generally a build up of bacteria in the mouth and throat will be the reason for bad breath. 

If you have a throat infection, pus on the tonsils as well as dehydration due to pain when swallowing, all these can contribute to bad breath and a bad taste in the mouth.

Bad breath in the morning is particularly common due to dehydration over the course of the night. 

Having a head cold can cause a build up of mucus in the nose and throat which can also contribute to bad breath and a disturbed sense of taste or smell. This can be completely normal and should subside as you recover.

Smoking can contribute to developing severe chest infections as well as bad breath, so this may also contribute to the symptoms you are experiencing.

It is a good idea to stop smoking for a number of health reasons if this is an issue.

If you have lost your appetite due to the cold and chest infection this may also be a cause of bad breath due to the release of ketones which have a sweet unpleasant smell that will come out as you breathe.

Sometimes people can get a build up of bacteria or other material on the tongue and tonsils which can also cause an unpleasant smell on the breath.

Good oral hygiene, brushing the teeth at least twice a day, ensuring regular dentist visits as well as ensuring you are well hydrated and eating adequately should all help in resolving the issue. 

Once you have recovered from the cold it is most likely that the bad breath will subside.

Q. It looks like I have athlete’s foot. Can I treat it at home with over-the-counter remedies?

A. Athlete’s foot (also known as tinea pedis) is a fungal infection of the feet. 

It may occur more commonly in people who are prone to having sweaty feet or in people who do a lot of exercise or sport. 

In these conditions a fungus which is on the surface of the skin has ideal warm moist conditions to enable it to grow and spread, this is especially the case between the toes. 

Similar fungal infection can also occur in other places such as the groin or in the scalp.

Athlete’s foot is particularly common and easily treated. 

It can be passed on from person to person, which often happens at swimming pools or communal showers, presenting as itchy, scaly white or red patches between the toes and on the soles of the feet. 

In some cases, the infection may spread to the nails causing yellow brittle toe nails.

Treatment is most commonly done at home using antifungal creams or powders which can be bought cheaply over the counter at pharmacies. It would be rare to need to see a doctor for the treatment of athlete’s foot.

Treatment will be usually needed for a period of two to six weeks depending on the severity and response to treatment and will generally involve applying the cream once or twice a day especially after showering. 

You may need to continue treatment for a week after the symptoms have resolved. 

It is important to dry the feet well and use flip flops when at the swimming pool to minimise the likelihood of picking up foot infections which can include verrucae and athlete’s foot.

When possible, keep the skin dry when changing socks and leaving the feet exposed to the air can help to reduce the likelihood of athlete’s foot recurring.

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