If you wake up with bad breath, or get smelly armpits after working out, then consider yourself normal. These odors are nothing to worry about, and are usually cleared up with a quick toothbrushing or swipe of deodorant. But some body odors can be a sign of a health problem, and therefore shouldn’t be passed off as “normal,” or ignored.
If you notice a smell that is stronger than usual, or seems to have come out of nowhere, it’s a good idea to let your doctor know. “When the body is out of balance … we lose our natural ability to fight odors,” Dr. Harold Katz, the developer of TheraBreath, tells Bustle. “You are not supposed to stink.” If you do, it could mean something in your body isn’t right.
I’m talking about infections, like some STDs, and even diseases that present themselves in the form of bad breath or body odor, like diabetes. Read on below for more prime examples, so you’ll know just what to point out the next time visit your doctor. Because, while some odors are totally normal, others can be a sign of an underlying health problem — and possibly one that needs to be treated ASAP.
Morning breath is one thing. But if your breath smells fruity or sweet, that could be a sign of a problem. “If you notice a fruity odor on your breath, this symptom cannot be ignored,” attending physician Nesochi Okeke-Igbokwe, MD, of the NYU Langone Medical Center, tells Bustle. “It may be indicative of diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), a metabolic condition that has the potential to be deadly and may arise as a complication of uncontrolled diabetes.”
While odor in your vaginal area is totally normal, you should be checked by a doctor if the smell becomes strong or fishy. “A ‘fishy’ odor coming from the vagina can be a sign of bacterial vaginosis (BV),” Caroline Mitchell, MD, MPH, a faculty member in the Vincent Center for Reproductive Biology at Massachusetts General Hospital, tells Bustle. “BV is a change in the vaginal bacterial community that can lead to increased discharge and odor, especially after sex.” Since it can lead to other gynecological health issues, it’s important to treat BV as soon as possible.
Everyone’s vulva has an odor, so no need to panic if you notice a scent coming from down below. Do take note, however, if it’s a new smell for you. “If there is a change in the vaginal odor that seems concerning, an exam by a physician should be able to tell whether there is a problem,” Mitchell says. “It is best to avoid products that include perfumes or scents that try to cover up these normal odors, as they can cause vulvar or vaginal irritation.”
There’s a difference between normal body odor and odor that might be a sign of a skin disease, and that’s usually the strength of the smell. “Skin infections can present with a putrid odor from the byproducts of bacterial growth,” says Dr. Jennifer Stagg, author of Unzip Your Genes, in an email to Bustle. “Gangrene, which is dying tissue, has one of the most offensive odors and smells like rotting meat.” Yikes.
Some internal health issues can present with some unpleasant body odors, too. This is usually due a serious condition, like liver and kidney disease. “In liver and kidney disease, people can experience both offensive body odor and bad breath,” Stagg says. So don’t let it go on ignored.
As Stagg says, “People with hyperthyroidism can sweat excessively resulting in increased classic BO.” If you have overactive thyroid, this extra sweat can might not be noticeable, but the increased scent of bacteria may be.
If your breath as been far worse since that cold you had, it could be due to an infection that’s lingering on. “Chronic bad breath can be a sign of overgrowth of bacteria in the gums, and even an acute or chronic sinus infection,” Stagg says. Ask your doctor about a course of antibiotics, which may be necessary to clear up the problem.
A fishy vaginal odor may be a sign of BV, but other strong smells might mean you have an infection. As Stagg says, “Offensive vaginal odors can also be a sign of a vaginal yeast infection or STD.” And that’s yet another issue that will need to be treated by your doctor.
As you know, most cases of bad breath can be cleared up with better oral hygiene. But if it seems like the stench won’t go away, it might mean the smell is actually emanating from your gut. “Bad breath primarily stems from hypochlorhydria, or lack of stomach acid,” says nutritional therapist Carley Smith, NTP, CGP. “If your food is not being properly digested, then it will affect gut health.” And thus your breath.
As Smith tells me, more smelly symptoms can arise from poor gut health, like the aforementioned bad breath, but also stinky sweat and smelly urine. This is likely due to toxins making their way out of your body, which definitely won’t smell great.
While anyone can get sweaty during a stressful moment, excessive sweating is particularly common for people who have an anxiety disorder. And it can even leave you coated in a layer of extra pungent “stress sweat.” This type of sweat comes out of entirely different glands than normal sweat and has a stronger odor, according to an article on the health site SweatHelp.org. If this describes your life, it may be time to speak with a therapist for ways to rein in stress and calm your nerves.
And keep in mind all the other ways body odor can tip you off to a problem. Because yes, you’ll likely want to do something about the smell. But you’ll definitely want to do something about your health issues, too.
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