Home Columns Dr Murtala Umar on “IMPROVING OUR PERSONAL HYGIENE”


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The word Hygiene was derived from the name of the Greek goddess of health, Hygiiai. Personal hygiene has been described as the principle of maintaining cleanliness and grooming of the external body. It therefore involves those practices by an individual to take care of his/her bodily health and well-being. The immense benefits of maintaining high personal hygiene spans from increase self-esteem and confidence in addition to health promotion and disease protection. Poor personal hygienic practices, not only predispose one to developing infections, but have its negative social and psychological consequences. By practicing good health habits, you are able to limit the spread of diseases to persons you come in contact with, such as friends and family members. Unfortunately, there is no uniform standard across varying cultures on what is acceptable as good hygiene, which may be at variance with standards of modern Science largely discussed here-in.

Personal hygiene can be achieved through so many ways the main ones being washing, oral care, hair care, and wound care, cleansing of personal utensils and preventing infection.


Unpleasant body odour results from a combination of many factors such as chemicals in sweat, wastes excreted through the skin, action of bacteria that live on the skin and unwashed clothes e.g dirty underwear. It is recommended that every person should wash his/her body at least once in a day and apply deodorant to reduce body odour. Scrubbing your body slough off dead, dry skin, by so doing acne and skin eruptions are removed, thereby ensuring healthy skin. Do not share your towels with anyone and wash them regularly.

We can easily transfer germs from unwashed hands to our mouth or food especially when we have common cold, diarrhea or close contact with an infected person. It is therefore imperative that we regularly wash our hands with soap and clean water. The World Health Organization (W.H.O) recommends the use of ash where soap is unavailable. One can then use clean towel or tissue paper to dry his or her hands. Hand sanitizers, if affordable, should be close by to supplement soap and water.  Hand washing is highly recommended in the circumstances below:

  • Before preparing or eating food
  • After handling garbage
  • After using the toilet
  • After handling human corpse
  • After handling domestic or wild animals(especially for hunters, butchers
  • After coughing or sneezing
  • Close contact with a person that suffers from excessive coughing and sneezing


Keeping your hair clean and combed improves your appearance and prevents dandruff and lice from growing in. Wash your hair regularly and apply shampoos and conditioners that help kill germs, reduce greasiness and prevent itching sensation.


It is recommended that we brush  our teeth with fluoride based, soft tooth brush at least twice a day to maintain good oral hygiene and appeal to people when we smile. Flossing, a procedure that removes food particles trap in between our teeth is complementary to brushing and healthier than tooth picking.   Excessive intake of stuffs like tea, coffee and red wine can stain ones teeth.  There are quite a number of commercially available mouth washes that reduce oral bacterial load. Halitosis (bad breath) is not only due to oral infection but may result from dehydration and empty stomach. Ingestion of garlic and onions also gives you bad breadth. By maintaining good eating habit and adequate water intake, halitosis can be reduced. Flavoured chewing gums after meals help improve oral hygiene and good breadth. However, despite all these measures bad breath may persists, thus the need to visit your dentist regularly.


These areas are prone to fungal diseases due to warmness and inadequate ventilation. Smelly feet do occur due to excessive sweat glands in this body part and constant use of socks that prevent evaporation and promote bacterial growth. Athlete foot is a well-known condition that may be associated with pain, sore and flaky skin. You can contact your Doctor on the right topical and oral medication to use.

Health experts recommend the following measures;

  1. Wash regularly and dry thoroughly with a soft towel and an anti-bacterial foot powder or a baby talc
  2. Allow feet to air when feasible and wear open shoes as much as possible
  3. Change socks more than once a day if needed and make sure they are cotton or other breathable fabric

The genital area is also prone to infection due to poor ventilation. Interval exposure and regular washing with mild soap and water will help maintain good hygiene. Note that that soap can irritate the genital areas calling for caution.  We should avoid the use of tight synthetic underwear and as much as possible use materilals made of cotton.   Women should change tampons and sanitary pads at least four to five times during menstruation. On the other hand, uncircumcised men need to pull back the penile foreskin and clean with water. This is because the foreskin can serve as a point of collection of secretions, ‘sme gma’ which will promote infection.


Accidental or incidental wounds sustained should be kept clean and properly dressed to enhance healing and prevent spread of infection to unaffected body parts or close contacts.


Finger nails should be cut short as they grow to prevent them from keeping germs and reduce disease transmission. Keeping long nails can be injurious to ourselves and persons close to us.

Finally, we must remember that maintaining good personal hygiene not only promote our own health and protect other people we interact with, it affects how we are perceived in the community. A clean, tidy person will socially and psychologically interact freely with his or her peers, gain confidence and more likely to attain success in life.  Most importantly, we will minimize the spread of Ebola Virus.

Written by Dr. Murtala Muhammad Umar

Consultant Ophthalmologist





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