Five Things Your Body Is Trying to Tell You
Listen to these symptoms—like watering eyes or a sudden itchy red patch—to optimize your health.
Olivia Newton-John was just flirting when she cooed, "Let me hear your body talk." But the truth is, it's communicating with you all the time: thanking you when you treat it well, and raising red flags when it needs attention. Learn to understand these five common yet confounding signals, so you can take healing action.
Your Calf Just Seized Up Like It's in a Vice
The excruciating leg cramp we call a charley horse is likely happening because you're dehydrated. "This causes an electrolyte imbalance in muscles, and they react by spasming," says Craig Kann, a physical therapist and athletic trainer at the Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. As we age, our muscles have a more difficult time eliminating waste, which can also result in cramping; drinking water helps relieve it in both cases.
To ease the ache, gently massage and stretch the area, or if you can't bear to touch it, apply heat. Then start sipping. You need to replenish not just water but electrolytes (magnesium, chloride, potassium, and calcium). Rather than turning to electrolyte-rich sports drinks, which can be high in sugar and additives, some experts recommend tablets like Nuun ($7 for 10, nuunlife.com), which you drop into plain water. Make it a habit to keep the liquids coming. Women need about 11.5 cups of fluids a day (just under three liters), per the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. If you live in a hot climate or are very active, throw back more.
Your Eyelid Twitches Uncontrollably
This happens when you're stressed out. "It's a common complaint from patients when they're worried about a deadline," says Ninani Kombo, MD, an assistant professor of ophthalmology and visual science at Yale School of Medicine. Add a sleepless night and an extra cup of coffee or two, and you've hit the trifecta—insomnia and caffeine can be culprits, too
"We'll always have deadlines and problems, so it's best to figure out how to help your body be more resistant to stress," says Dr. Kombo, who counsels patients to make regular time for exercise or a meditation practice, of a solution. In the moment, your go-to stress reducer (deep breathing? cat-cow pose?) may help, as can massaging your eyelid or applying a warm compress to relax the muscle. If the problem persists, see a doctor: It might be the side effect of a medication or an indication of a neurological disorder.
A Red or Flaky Patch on Your Skin Itches Like Crazy
It's one of those old troublemakers, eczema or psoriasis. "These concerns are very common. While stress or dry skin can play a role, they're often the result of hormonal changes as a part of your normal cycle, or changes in your diet," explains Taz Bhatia, MD, a wellness expert and integrative-health physician in Atlanta. Neither is a condition to worry about, but both can be unsightly and uncomfortable.
If you can, try to nip them in the bud. "It's easy to address mild to moderate symptoms, but harder to get severe ones in check," says Dr. Bhatia. "First, look at your diet to see if your nutritional chemistry is off. Are you getting enough healthy fats and protein? Eating too many high-sugar or processed foods?" If you've been eating well and the issue doesn't go away in a few days, talk to your doctor. She may prescribe a topical treatment or in-office light therapy to reduce inflammation and slow the growth of affected skin cells, or an oral or injected medication that targets the immune system.
Your Eyes Keep Watering
They're actually dry. (Oh, the irony!) "When smaller tear glands aren't doing their job to keep your eyes wet, bigger ones kick in—and they're less controlled," says Dr. Kombo. Plus, when you stare at a monitor for long stretches, you blink less, and blinking is a moisturizing mechanism. Dr. Kombo also notes that dry eyes may increase from perimenopause through postmenopause (due to hormone changes) and in people who spend a lot of time near fans or forced-air heat.
To help, apply drops of artificial tears (otherwise known as saline water) when you wake up, and during the day as needed, until they return to normal. To take breaks from digital strain, follow the 20-20-20 rule: Set a timer (or note the time on a pad) so that every 20 minutes, you look at some-thing 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
Your Nails Are as Ridged as a Licorice Whip
Vertical bumps can be a sign of aging or a result of cuticle damage from an overaggressive manicure, but chances are your fingernails are just parched. "Nails start out as living cells. When they get dehydrated, that changes the way they grow, and ridges form," explains Kavita Mariwalla, MD, a dermatologist in West Islip, New York.
"Use a rich moisturizer on your cuticles on a daily basis; this won't smooth ridged nails, but it will seal in hydration, preventing ridging in the future," says Dr. Mariwalla, who likes Skinfix Remedy+ 911 Ointment ($24, sephora.com); you can also use Vaseline ($2.29, target.com). In addition, she suggests brushing on a ridge filler and a base coat during a mani. Finally, says Dr. Mariwalla, avoid potentially harsh treatments like artificial nails, gel manicures, buffing (it can thin the nail plate), and soaking in removers containing acetone, which strips natural oils.