How to deal with farting in the office

It can be really unpleasant when someone farts in the office.
It can be really unpleasant when someone farts in the office.

Whether you call it farting, flatulence, passing wind or any other name, expelling gas is a normal physical function and everyone does it.

We know that it is unhealthy to hold back farts – and we're all familiar with sayings like, “Wherever you be, let your wind go free…”

However true this may be, it is still not socially acceptable to "drop your guts" in public places, especially if it is a confined space where other people can hear and/or smell your farts.

(It’s generally not considered so bad to fart in the presence of people you feel comfortable with, like close friends and family.)

At work   

Most employees spend about eight hours a day at work, and while many people are employed on building sites or other open-air locations, most of us work indoors at relatively close quarters with colleagues and co-workers. 

A fart usually announces itself by its sound and smell. Both characteristics are not essential, however, as farts can be silent and don’t always smell bad. It is generally accepted that the silent ones are the really smelly ones (“silent but violent”) and that the loud ones don’t smell as bad.

The average person farts anywhere between 14 and 24 times per day, adding up to about 1.5 litres of gas a day, which means that sooner or later during the course of the day you’re going to feel the need to “let one fly”.

How to avoid farting in the office

Despite the fact that farting is a normal function, and everybody does it, there are ways to keep gas production to a minimum:   

  • Don’t swallow too much air. This usually happen if you’re nervous, or if you eat or drink too fast.
  • Stay away from "gassy" foods. Common foods that cause gas are legumes (beans, lentils); cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower); dairy products (milk, cheese, ice cream, yoghurt); sugar alcohols (sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol); and carbonated beverages.  
  • Try digestive enzymes. If beans and other plant foods are a problem, try a digestive supplement that contains alpha-galactosidase, which will help your body break down the fibrous structure.
  • Try herbs. Drinking peppermint tea or chewing fennel seeds can help decrease bloating after large meals.
  • Find out what sets you off. We’re all different, so identifying your triggers and finding your own solutions can be really helpful.
  • See your doctor. If nothing else works, consult your doctor to rule out gastrointestinal disorders like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GORD).

Holding it in until one can release it outside or in the bathroom is sadly what most office workers have become experts at doing.

Stifling your farts can be uncomfortable or even dangerous, and refusing to “let it out” can cause diverticula (pouches in the wall of the colon), which can become infected, leading to a condition called diverticulitis. There is also a connection between gas that builds up in the body and bloating, pain, indigestion and heartburn.

What to do if you let one 'slip out'

If you lose control of your sphincter, you have a number of options:

  • Ignore it and hope no one around you noticed. (This works particularly well if the fart wasn't too loud or smelly.)
  • Pull up your nose and give your neighbour a dirty look. (This works well when people noticed but can't pinpoint the source of the fart.)
  • "Man up" and apologise for your indiscretion. (This might be your only option if you can't let it slide or shift the blame. You can try making a joke to deflate the tension.)

If you feel one coming on but still have some control, you can take a quick trip to the bathroom to blow off steam. If, however, it is a really flatulent day and you know you're going to embarrass yourself, you can organise that you work from home or, in extreme cases, phone in sick.

And if you're really brave, you can explain the situation to your colleagues and ask them to "bear with you".

How to react if someone else does it

  • Ignore it if it's not too obvious.
  • Make a scene to discourage the culprit from ever doing it again.
  • React with humour or sympathy to make the person feel less embarrassed.
  • If it's an ongoing problem, because the farter is a real pig or has a medical problem, discuss the situation with you colleagues and perhaps speak to you line manager or your Human Resources (HR) department.

In all seriousness...

On a more serious note, a recent article points out that in an environment where people are present on a daily basis, it’s best to use the Golden Rule and respect the fact that they have to show their face there again – and try to keep any embarrassment to an absolute minimum. 

It is therefore better to relax and not make a big deal of the odd fart in the office. If, however, the situation becomes chronic, someone in authority should be approached to deal with the problem in a professional way.

Note: The opinions aired above don't necessarily reflect those of Health24.

Image supplied by iStock.

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