Body odor isn’t the most pleasant topic, but let’s be real–it’s a normal part of life. Sweating, morning breath, and “number two” don’t exactly smell like flowers. Nothing a shower or toothbrush can’t fix, right? Well, depending on the odor, there might be a bigger problem at play.
For men, this is tricky. Our culture jokes about how males are stinky, especially when compared to women. It’s pretty normal to just brush it off. However, many diseases release a specific smell. This is the immune system’s way of trying to tell you something!1 So, listen with your nose, and pay attention. Take note if it’s constantly scrunched up.
Not sure what to look for? Keep these 5 common body odors on your radar.
1. Stinky Feet: Athlete’s Foot
To be fair, feet never rarely smells great. It’s one of the main places you sweat, aside from the palms and underarms. Sweat plus bacteria on the skin equals body odor.2
But when the smell is so funky that it makes your eyes water, don’t ignore it. You might have athlete’s foot or Tinea Pedia. This fungal infection loves dark and moist areas like the feet. Tell-tale symptoms include itching, dryness, scaling, inflammation, swelling, and blisters. It’s most common in athletes who frequent pools, showers, and locker rooms.
If you’ve had it before, use an over-the-counter anti-fungal spray. Otherwise, head to the doctor before it spreads. He may prescribe a topical or oral antifungal drug.3
2. Smelly Poop: Lactose Intolerance
Poop isn’t exactly fragrant. Yet, it shouldn’t be so foul that it makes you wonder what just came out of your body. This may be a sign of lactose intolerance. If so, symptoms like stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhea, gas, and nausea are also likely. They’ll show up if you don’t have enough lactase, the enzyme that breaks down the sugar in milk and milk products.
3. Fruity Breath: Diabetic Ketoacidosis
Fruits smell great, so why the concern? For a diabetic, this is a sign of diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), a dangerous complication of diabetes. This is more common in people with type 1 diabetes than type 2.
It starts when insulin is low. In turn, the body can’t use glucose as fuel, so it turns to fat. The process makes chemicals called ketones build up. High levels, unfortunately, are toxic.6
Acetone is also produced, leading to the sweet and fruity odor.7 Other symptoms of DKA include low alertness, rapid breathing, flushed face, headache, dry skin, and frequent urination and thirst.
DKA is deadly, so head to the emergency room immediately. You’ll need insulin and fluids, especially if you have been vomiting.8
4. Pungent Urine: Urinary Tract Infection
It’s no secret that women have a high risk for urinary tract infections (UTI). Sexual intercourse, wiping back to front, and having a shorter urethra are common causes. For a man, the risk is low–but not zero.
UTI’s in men often stem from an enlarged prostate, not drinking enough fluids, or holding pee in for a long time. It might even be caused by a kidney stone, so don’t ignore it! If left untreated, a UTI can turn into a severe kidney infection.9
5. Bad Breath: Sleep Apnea
Morning breath is pretty normal, but brushing your teeth is the real test. Still rancid? You might have sleep apnea, a sleep disorder that causes breathing to pause during sleep. It’ll start again with a snort.
Sleep apnea causes snoring, which forces you to breathe out of the mouth. This leads to a dry mouth, which then turns into bacterial growth and smelly breath.10
Also, the quality of sleep won’t be that great. So if you are dealing with daytime sleepiness and bad breath, visit the doctor. Undiagnosed sleep apnea can boost the risk of irregular heartbeats, heart attack, stroke, diabetes, and heart failure.11
The moral of the story? Don’t brush off weird smells. Take note of your usual body odors so you know when something is off.
|↑1||Shirasu, Mika, and Kazushige Touhara. “The scent of disease: volatile organic compounds of the human body related to disease and disorder.” The Journal of Biochemistry 150, no. 3 (2011): 257-266.|
|↑2||Sweat. MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine.|
|↑3||Athlete’s Foot. American Podiatric Medical Association.|
|↑4||Lactose Intolerance. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.|
|↑5||Lactose Intolerance. U.S. National Library of Medicine.|
|↑6, ↑8||Diabetic ketoacidosis. MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine.|
|↑7||Musa-Veloso, Kathy, Sergei S. Likhodii, and Stephen C. Cunnane. “Breath acetone is a reliable indicator of ketosis in adults consuming ketogenic meals.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 76, no. 1 (2002): 65-70.|
|↑9||What Causes UTIs & UI? National Institutes of Health.|
|↑10||Dry Mouth. National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.|
|↑11||What Is Sleep Apnea? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.|