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Reader Dilemma: What do you do when you have to poot in public? [Can holding in gas hurt you?]

Posted Dec 17 2013 1:57am


During a fitness class a couple of weeks ago, a noxious odor seeped through the room, eventually hanging over all of us like a smog inversion, thanks to the poor air circulation of the studio. It was bad but even though my eyes were a watering I couldn’t find it in me to be upset. Mostly because I’ve totally been there before. Who can forget the great Soy Patty Incident of 2006? I was doing an evening kickboxing class and, because I was still a vegetarian then, grabbed a quick soy burger patty for dinner before heading to the gym. As we warmed up, I felt my tummy start to inflate faster than Kanye West’s ego and become more bubbly than a hot tub full of starlets when George Clooney walks in. Unfortunately there was no escape as I was right at the front of the class, packed between friends who I was hoping would still be me my friends after the inevitable happened. And oh it happened! I tried to hold it in but all that good cardio activity plus moves that compressed my stomach from every angle made it ripe for a rectal rebellion. That was the night I discovered both how forgiving people can be and also unforgiving my gut is of processed soy.

But! Back to my stranger-friend who was still fine tuning her anal audio. The other reason I wasn’t as bothered as I might have been was because it smelled exactly like my gas before I figured out I’m lactose intolerant. There is a very, shall we say, distinctive odor that comes after eating dairy and not being able to digest the lactose sugars. And the best part is that it seems to be a fairly consistent and therefore identifiable odor!

As we lay on the studio floor cooling down (and trying to get beneath the smell), I wondered how I could approach the afflicted woman after class. Perhaps she didn’t know she was lactose intolerant! I was 34 before I figured it out. Someone needed to tell her! Think of all the pain and embarrassment I could save her!

Serious question: Have you ever diagnosed a stranger’s illness just from smelling their booty toots? Second serious question: Have you ever told them of your theory?

Yeah, I didn’t say anything to her. I didn’t want to embarrass her and also I didn’t know how to start that conversation tactfully. “Excuse me but I couldn’t help but notice you going insane in the methane up there. Did you perchance eat cereal with milk for breakfast?” Nope. Couldn’t do it.

Yet, my cowardice is another person’s job opportunity. Turns out that being a professional fart smeller is a real thing ! These people are trained to huff heinie hiccups and then look for signs of infection, disease or disorder in the scent. Smell a niche and fill it, I always (never) say! I’m told that gluten intolerance, Celiac Disease and food allergies can all have very unique odor profiles. In addition, one practitioner of this under-appreciated art explains, “Extremely stinky farts indicate bacterial infection in the patient’s bowels or intestines. A raw, fishy or meaty smell, meanwhile, could point to infection in the digestive organs or even highlight the presence of bleeding or tumours in the intestinal lining. ”

See, you cheek-squeakin’ chick, you might have tumours! And British ones at that! But seriously, playing butt whiffle is a lot cheaper and less invasive than a proctology exam. Maybe I should have talked to the lady?

Anyhow, I was reminded of my stinky stranger dilemma when I got this e-mail today from Reader M:

“I have a big problem and I’m wondering what you know about this. I am flying home to see my family and it’s a 6-hour flight. But here’s my problem. I’m a really gassy person. Always have been. (I’ll admit it!) Normally I try to step out of the room or go to a bathroom but an airplane doesn’t really allow for that. And I don’t want to be that person who everyone hates. Flying is bad enough! I think I’ll try to hold it in but that seems like a really long time. So I guess my question is can holding in my farts hurt me? What do other people do when they have to fart in public?”

Ah, how do you let fly when you’re flying? Dear Reader M, know I love you for even considering the comfort of your fellow passengers! You’re already way beyond most public pooters. But I do understand that your aircraft is not equipped to handle nuclear blasts and so you’re right to try to think of something.

First, put your mind at ease: While many websites listed possible health issues from squelching your thunder down under, when I looked at reputable sources (or at least what passes for reputable on the internet) Dr. Oz , Oprah , the Mayo Clinic , WebMD and FitSugar all agree that holding in your gas – even for very long periods of time – won’t do you any lasting damage. You almost certainly will not explode. Although you will be very very uncomfortable. But even assuming you’re willing to take on the personal discomfort to ensure your fellow travelers’ comfort, it’s very hard to hold it in forever. Before long everyone’s listening to Horton Hears a Poo at storytime. Eventually you will probably relax and when you do, your mouse motorcycle will take off full speed.

Which leaves you with these options:

1. Make a public announcement about your issues and hand out tubes of Peppermint Chapstick for people to swipe under their noses. (Seriously, try it sometime! No matter what the foul odor, I swear a dab of minty lip balm under your nostrils can fix it!)

2. Start a band. With your butt trumpet, the guy who can squeak his underarm and the lady who can play her nose like a harmonica you’ll be working weddings in no time!

3. Ignore it and hope your fellow passengers will follow suit. Which, in most cases, is what happens. People are surprisingly kind. (Although you know who isn’t? Little kids. My children will call out a rump ripper immediately and loudly – although I’d like to point out it’s usually out of a sense of respect. One of their favorite pastimes after all is playing Fart on a Brother’s Face.)

So, dear Reader M, if none of those options sound good to you I’d recommend a little prevention. I know you said you’ve always been the flatulent sort but have you considered why? It may just be you have a squeakier sphincter than most but I’m guessing since the odor seems to be so noxious that something else might be going on.

- Try simple tricks to prevent gas like eating slowly, chewing with your mouth closed, taking small bites and breathing through your nose.

- Don’t chew gum or drink soda.

- Get checked for food intolerances/allergies. Or just do an elimination diet to see if it’s a food that’s the offender. I have read many accounts where someone with gluten intolerance will notice a relief from the gas within a day or two of removing gluten. Other common gas inducers are beans, cruciferous veggies, eating a large amount of fruit at once, eggs, onions, dairy and meat. Which is not to say you shouldn’t eat those foods! But maybe just don’t eat them right before a 6-hour flight home.

- Don’t OD on the fiber supplements.

- Try some natural remedies. Chewing fennel seeds has been the go-to gas relief for centuries. (I personally love that black licorice-y flavor of fennel but it can be a bit startling if you’re not used to it. So just start with a few!) Carraway seeds, turmeric and cloves are also suggested. And chewing on a piece of ginger (I prefer dried) can also help settle your tummy pre-plane.

Good luck dear reader and let me know how your flight goes! May the flatulent force be with you!

Have any of you ever had gas problems? Any other suggestions for M? Would you have said something to the woman in my gym class? And what’s your tactic when you need to toot in public: Loud & proud, silent-but-deadly or hold until you fold?


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