The anus is made up of the last few centimetres of the bowel (anal canal) and the anal opening, through which stool (poo or faeces) leave your body. During a bowel movement, the anal muscles (the sphincters) relax to release stool. It can be distressing when there are problems with anal functions.
Diet, digestion, sexual activity and genetic and environmental factors all play a role in anal health.
Good anal hygiene can reduce the risk of developing problems, such as anal fissures (a small tear in the lining of the anus), inflammation, an itchy bottom, haemorrhoids and other forms of pain or discomfort.
Drinking plenty of water and eating fibre-rich foods, such as bran cereals, fruit and vegetables and whole grain bread, will help soften your stool.
Most problems with the anus will improve if you look after yourself. But if you have severe pain, the pain doesn’t improve in a few days, or you bleed from your bottom, it is important to seek medical advice.
Looking after yourself
Good anal hygiene:
- keep the anal area clean by washing with water every day. Do not use soaps as they will reduce the natural oils that protect the anus and may make the area dry and itchy. Use aqueous cream or a soap-free cleanser instead
- avoid vigorous wiping with toilet paper as this may cause further chafing of the skin, which can become inflamed or infected
- avoid cleansing wipes or chemicals
Good toilet practices:
- don't put off the urge to go to the toilet
- try not to strain when going to the toilet as this can irritate the anal area and lead to serious complications. Don’t sit on the toilet for more than a few minutes
Relieving anal discomfort:
- to help relieve anal pain and discomfort, sit in a shallow bath of warm water for 10 – 20 minutes, several times a day, if possible
- if the anal area is extremely painful and swollen, a cold compress or covered ice pack, such as a bag of frozen peas wrapped in a clean towel, may be used to relieve the pain and swelling. Do not keep the ice pack on the area for any more than 30 minutes
- over-the-counter creams, lotions and ointments may also relieve itching around the anal or rectal area. Follow the instructions or ask your pharmacist for advice
If you are in pain, get advice on pain relief medicines you can take.
Not sure what to do next?
If you are still concerned about your anus, check your symptoms with healthdirect’s online Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.
The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).
Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.
Last reviewed: June 2019