Is your choice of clothing causing you health problems? After Abbey Clancy revealed she mistook her tight jeans for MS symptoms, why these nine items could be causing everything from spots to panic attacks and BO

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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  • Common ailments such as back pain and spots can be a sign of serious illness 
  • But often there is a much simpler cause: an ill-fitting tie or trousers

Have you suddenly developed a pain in your back, or perhaps had an unusual breakout of spots across your chin? Maybe you just feel a bit more tired than usual?

While all these can be brought on by medical causes there can also be another, far less disturbing explanation – your clothing could be to blame.

Abbey Clancy, 38, has revealed that she went to see a doctor after suddenly experiencing numbness in her legs, which a quick Google search had convinced her was due to multiple sclerosis, a serious condition affecting the brain and nerves that can lead to tingling in the limbs as well as movement and balance problems.

By the time the model and mother of four got to see the doctor she was so convinced that she had a serious health complaint that she was in her own words ‘hysterical’ and ‘couldn‘t stop crying’.

Abbey Clancy was told by her GP that her skintight jeans were causing her puzzling numbness

Abbey Clancy was told by her GP that her skintight jeans were causing her puzzling numbness

In fact, the numbness was down to her wearing skintight jeans. She said on her podcast, Newly-Weds: ‘They were so tight they would stop the blood where I was sitting down.’

This is far from unusual – in fact scientists have identified many other examples where your apparel can have surprising repercussions for your health, as we reveal here.

Neck ties cut bloodflow to the brain …

It’s long been regarded an essential part of a professional work outfit, yet wearing a neck tie is actually a form of ‘socially desirable strangulation’, according to researchers at the University Hospital Schleswig-Holstein in Kiel, Germany.

This follows their study, published in the journal Neuroradiology, which looked at how wearing a tie might affect bloodflow to the brain.

They assigned 30 healthy men into two groups, tie-wearing and open collar shirt. All the volunteers then had three MRI scans – these revealed that wearing a tie cut bloodflow by 7.5 per cent, and the flow continued to be reduced even after the tie had been released, as a result of pressure on the jugular vein and carotid arteries in the neck. This reduced bloodflow to the brain, a potential health risk.

… and make glaucoma worse

Other research has found that wearing a tie that’s too tight can raise the pressure of fluid in the eye.

In a study involving 30 men, published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology, a tight tie increased intraocular pressure, as it is known, in 70 per cent of healthy men and in 60 per cent of patients with glaucoma (where raised pressure in the eye damages the optic nerve, potentially leading to sight loss).

The findings of the 2003 study may have two significant implications, suggested the researchers: in patients with glaucoma, additional pressure could increase risk of damage to the optic nerve; and in otherwise healthy patients, wearing a tight tie during an eye examination could lead to an artificially raised pressure reading, leading to further glaucoma testing they don’t need.

Also check your collar size. US researchers found 67 per cent of men wore shirts with collars too small for their neck, which distorted their vision slightly. You should be able to insert your finger easily between your neck and the collar.

Pencil skirts – or high heels – can aggravate back pain

‘Tight skirts restrict the movement of the legs while walking, in a way that puts pressure on the lower spine,’ says Tim Allardyce, a physiotherapist at Surrey Physio in Mitcham.

‘On top of this, the waistband of most pencil skirts rides high above the pelvis. This, combined with the tight fit, can restrict movement of the back when bending, which can aggravate back or hip pain, or a slipped disc.’

But you don’t have to give up wearing pencil skirts completely – a slit up the back of the skirt or more stretchy fabric will allow a greater range of movement. High heels can cause similar problems, says Tim Allardyce.

Wearing high heels can cause and amplify back pain, as can tight-fitting skirts

Wearing high heels can cause and amplify back pain, as can tight-fitting skirts

Winter coats linked to asthma

An allergy to dust mites can trigger asthma, but did you know that coats, scarves or thick jumpers might make this worse?

While bedding has long been regarded as the main exposure to the mites, a study by the University of Sydney suggests this is not the case. When volunteers were given devices that measured dust mites in the air, these revealed ‘little clouds of mites all around them’, explained lead researcher Professor Euan Tovey.

The researchers’ analysis revealed that the mites were being released from the volunteers’ clothing, particularly items that are washed infrequently such as winter coats, scarves or thick jumpers.

The researchers concluded that ‘sleep exposure, which varied 80-fold between individuals, accounted overall for 9.85 per cent of total exposure to dust mites, suggesting beds are not often the main site of exposure’.

Dry cleaning doesn’t kill dust mites – only washing at temperatures of above 60C gets rid of them.

Your bra can trigger acne …

A type of acne caused by friction on the skin – mechanica acne – is most common where any straps press, for instance, under a bra, around the chin if you wear a bike helmet, or where backpacks lie on shoulders.

Scarves pressed against the chin by thick coat collars may also lead to outbreaks, says Lee Garrett, an aesthetic nurse practitioner in Harley Street.

‘The spots are quite painful, red and hard, and often appear in clusters around the jaw line and neck,’ he says.

But pressure isn’t the only reason scarves trigger spots.

‘Some people may be allergic to washing powder or to lanolin if the scarf is made of wool,’ says Lee Garrett.

‘Dirty scarves can also cause breakouts as bacteria comes into contact with the skin.’

Ill-fitting bras, and bicycle helmets, can cause acne through excessive friction on the skin

Ill-fitting bras, and bicycle helmets, can cause acne through excessive friction on the skin

… and cause ‘a heart attack’

Wearing tight or badly fitting bras may lead to costochondritis, a pain or inflammation of the cartilage between the ribs which feels like a sharp, stabbing pain in the front of the chest that some sufferers have mistaken for a heart attack.

A correctly sized bra can help reduce any discomfort but if the pain persists, says Dr Tom Walton, a consultant rheumatologist at Colchester General Hospital, anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen might help.

He also recommends getting any chest pains checked to rule out potentially more serious causes.

Cotton sleepwear may make you tired

In colder temperatures, you’re better off in pyjamas made of wool than those made from cotton, suggests research by the University of Sydney.

The study, published in 2014, found that in lower temperatures (17C/63F in the trial), people who wore cotton or polyester took around ten minutes longer to fall asleep and had more broken sleep than those wearing wool, which could lead to daytime sleepiness.

As lead researcher Dr Mirim Shin explained: ‘Unlike cotton, wool fibres are crimped, increasing spaces where air can be trapped within the yarn and fabric structure, which provide better insulation in cooler temperatures.’

Intriguingly, what people wore to bed had a greater effect on sleep than the fabric of their bedding.

Experts recommend wearing pyjamas made from wool in the colder months to aid sleep

Experts recommend wearing pyjamas made from wool in the colder months to aid sleep

Could striped clothing trigger epileptic seizure?

This is what happened to a 14-year-old girl whose episodes were triggered by her father’s striped shirts, according to a case report written by Arnold Wilkins, emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Essex. (Her other triggers included escalators in department stores and floor grilles at the entrances to buildings.)

Visual stimuli such as flashing lights are an issue for around 4 per cent of people with epilepsy and for a subset of this group, the problem is triggered by striped patterns, particularly those with a high contrast between the colours and lots of narrow stripes crowded together.

Professor Wilkins said: ‘This type of pattern cause large numbers of the brain’s neurons to fire at the same time, which can trigger seizures in those with epilepsy.’

Stripes can also cause migraines. Covering an eye or putting on dark glasses may prevent such attacks.

Clothing that may cause anxiety

A panic attack is described as an intense feeling of fear and anxiety, which is accompanied by physical symptoms such as sweating, rapid breathing or dizziness.

In some people, wearing tight clothing that restricts breathing or something that makes you feel hot for example, gloves or a scarf can cause changes in the body, such as more rapid breathing that feels like panic, according to Dr Monica Cain, a psychologist based in London. She says that some people then react to these sensations with further anxiety, which triggers a full-blown panic attack.

As well as loosening or removing clothing, she advises slowing your breathing as well as this exercise to help distract the brain: focus on one of your senses, think about what you can feel, hear or smell around you.

Hats or bike helmets and compression headaches

Tight clothing that puts pressure on the cranial nerves in the head can lead to compression headaches, affecting the face and back of the head.

A 2017 study in Denmark found that 30 per cent of participants suffered from compression headaches while wearing a military helmet, but wearing a hard hat, swimming cap, bike helmet, tight hat or hairband may also trigger them.

Polyester fabric worsens body odour

Body odour is caused by corynebacteria and micrococci, bacteria found on the skin.

When they break down fats in your sweat, they produce an odour: the more bacteria you have, the more odour produced.

The problem is these bacteria can grow on fabrics and micrococci thrive on polyester. If you seem to smell more than normal, it could be because your garment has developed a colony of micrococci.

Wash it at a high temperature to kill the bacteria or try hanging the item on a clothes line in the sunshine because UV light kills them.

Sports kit can be bad news if you’re older

Wearing tight sports gear could reduce your performance, and be bad news for blood pressure if you’re older, suggests a study in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport in 2017.

Compression clothing is meant to improve bloodflow to the muscles. But in a study by the University of Essex, patients with an average age of 60 – and who were already at risk of high blood pressure, obesity or type 2 diabetes – found intense treadmill workouts more difficult when wearing tight-fitting sports kit, and covered 9 per cent less distance.

Separate research by the University of Navarra in Spain found that tight-fitting sports clothing raised the body temperature and heart rates of people in their 60s, increasing their risk of heart attack.

Additional reporting : Poppy Atkinson Gibson


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