11 Natural Smells That Can Tell You Surprising Things About Your Health
We all get smelly from time to time, and these smells can switch it up depending on different factors in your health. Usually, odors like rank armpits or funky breath can be cleared up with basic hygiene, a spray of perfume, or a stick of gum. It's only the scents and odors that are incredibly strong or foul —and seem to be different or unusual for your body — that you need to pay attention to, as the odor may be a sign of a health problem.
"If you think something is unusual about the way your body smells one day, don’t always just chalk it up as a 'bad day' and move on," Dr. David Greuner, of NYC Surgical Associates, tells Bustle. "Perhaps it’s your body telling you something, so I would definitely recommend taking any strong smells seriously. With that said, don’t freak out every time you smell bad. Body odor is entirely normal, and it happens to everyone."
Again, it's only when the smell is completely out of the ordinary — like really bad breath despite brushing your teeth, or feet that stink despite taking a shower — that you might want to see a doctor. Usually, these issues can be cleared up easily, and are nothing to worry about. It is, however, a good idea to pay attention to your body, since it's always sending out subtle signals. Here are a few body odors experts say can be a symptom of a greater health concern, that you definitely shouldn't ignore.
1. Extra Smelly Feet
We all get smelly feet from time to time, so don't worry too much if yours are particularly rancid after a long day at work, or after going to the gym. "Most body odor is entirely normal, and some basic hygiene can take care of it in only a matter of time," Greuner says. "But, there are some [odors] that can actually alert you of possible health conditions."
When foot odors linger on, despite taking a shower, it could be a sign of athlete's foot, or foot fungus. "Fungus is something that grows where sweat and moisture are trapped, and if you run around a lot and sweat, your shoes and socks hold everything in. This gives fungus a chance to grow, which can lead to a strong odor coming from in between your toes." But don't worry — often all it takes to clear it up are over-the-counter antifungal creams, or whatever's recommended by your doctor.
2. Strong Smelling Urine
If your strong smelling urine is simply due to dehydration — which is often the case, when it comes to stinky pee — it will go back to normal once you start drinking more liquids. But if your pee stays smelly, and is accompanied by symptoms like burning and urgency, it could be a sign of an infection, such as a urinary tract infection (UTI).
"If it remains dark in color, still smells, and hurts to go to the bathroom, then you should talk to your doctor about a UTI," Greuner says. UTIs often need to be treated with a course of antibiotics, so you'll want to get on that ASAP.
3. Bad Breath That Doesn't Go Away
Pretty much everyone experiences bad breath in the morning, and we may a stick of gum as the day goes on and smelly germs build up in the mouth. So if you have bad breath, don't fret. By brushing your teeth, and drinking more water, you should be able to clear it up, no problem.
Do pay attention, however, to bad breath that sticks around despite these efforts, as it may be a sign of tooth decay. "Decayed tissue and bacterial buildup from untreated cavities or tooth decay causes bad breath that typically won’t resolve with normal hygiene," Dr. Leslie Renee Townsend, DDS, regional dental director of Jefferson Dental Care, tells Bustle. "If it’s been some time since your last dental visit or if you’re feeling pain or sensitivity in a tooth, it’s time to see your dentist."
4. Bad Breath — Again
Another cause of bad breath is gum disease, which is fairly common — especially among people 35 and older — and can come about due to poor oral hygiene. In the early stages of halitosis, or bad breath, can be one of the first indicators, so definitely pay attention if you brush and brush and can't seem to feel fresh.
"In mild cases (called gingivitis), the gums become red, swollen, and bleed easily, but there is usually very little or no discomfort," Dr. Harold Katz, tells Bustle. "Gingivitis is often caused by inadequate oral hygiene, however, it is reversible with professional treatment and good oral home care."
5. Sugary-Smelling Breath
While it's not necessarily a bad smell, if your breath suddenly takes on a sugary odor, it might be worth seeing a doctor. "Bad breath can often mean dehydration, where bacteria are able to grow and stink, but having some water can fix this with no problem. The opposite, such as sugary, fruity smelling breath is where one should consider seeing a doctor," Greuner says. "This can be related to diabetes, since the body needs to break down fatty acids in order to produce the proper amount of energy, and the ketones in your blood release a fruity odor." Hence, making your breath smell sweet.
6. Bad Smells From Your Throat
Bad breath doesn't always originate in the mouth; sometimes it can be a sign of digestive troubles, and emanate from your gut instead. When that's the case, the bad smell may seem like it's coming from your throat.
"Digestive and gastrointestinal issues are a more internal cause of bad breath that requires treatment for the root of the issue," says Townsend. "Patients who suffer from [gastroesophageal reflux disease], acid reflux, celiac disease, and other internal issues often experience bad breath as a result." Once the underlying cause is treated, this type of bad breath can go away.
7. Smelly Burps
Most of us burp after eating, as our bodies release excess air that was swallowed, or produced by whatever we ate or drank (looking at you, soda). But burping and belching all day long may be a sign of something going on internally, such as Crohn's disease.
"This intestinal inflammatory disease produces ulcerations in the stomach and intestines, and is often accompanied by GERD," Katz says. And as you know, GERD — aka acid reflux, can cause all sorts of stomach issues, including burping, but also diarrhea, nausea, and flatulence, among other things.
8. Your Vagina Smelling Extra 'Fishy'
Since everyone's vagina has a specific scent, don't be worried about being "stinky" or having an odor. As with most body parts, vaginas have a smell, and that is OK.
Do, however, see your OB/GYN if you notice other symptoms along with a stronger or different odor, as it may be a sign of an infection. "A characteristic sign of bacterial vaginosis (BV) in women is a fishy smell in their vaginal area," Dr. Shaughanassee Williams, DNP, CNM, founder of HealthyHER Center for Women's Care, tells Bustle. "This smell will also be accompanied with vaginal discharge and mild vaginal itching at times for some women."
If you have BV, you're definitely not alone. But you do want to treat it, sooner rather than later. "Bacterial vaginosis occurs when their is an overgrowth of certain bacteria in the vagina," Williams says. "It is very common in many women ... [and] it can be easily treated with antibiotics by the patient's health provider."
9. A Strong Smelling Scalp
If you notice that your head smells different than usual, or you get a whiff of something odd when you sniff your hair, it could be a sign of a fungal infection on your scalp.
"Tinea capitis, or ringworm, is a fungus that can have an odd odor," Dr. Scott Schreiber, a chiropractic physician, tells Bustle. "It can be itchy and cause dandruff-like flakes." And since itchiness is never fun, you'll want to speak with a doctor about getting a treatment.
"Treatment can be a combination of topical and oral antifungal medications and or antifungal supplements," Schreiber says. "These conditions usually respond well with treatment."
10. Sweat & Breath That Smells Like Urine
Again, everyone sweats, and everyone occasionally smells funky as a result. But your body might be trying to tell you something if you notice your sweat has taken on a urine-like scent.
When that's the case, something may be wrong with your kidneys, such as kidney disease. "When kidneys are damaged, they are unable to filter toxins from the blood and release them through urination, causing levels of toxins to increase in the bloodstream," Katz says. "These toxins are then forced to be excreted through sweat and saliva, which makes breath smell strongly acidic and similar to unfiltered urine."
11. Extra Smelly Sweat
While everyone sweats when they're hot, there's a different type of sweat — known as stress sweat — that's a big more pungent, and only comes out when you're feeling anxious.
"Stress sweat is from apocrine glands located in your armpits, groin, top of your head, and bottoms of your feet," Dr. Elizabeth Trattner tells Bustle. "They immediately respond to anxiety or stress. "This sweat is different than regular sweat. Stress sweat is made of up of protein and fats," and as a result, can be stronger smelling than regular sweat.
While it's not harmful, it may be a sign that you're anxious or overtaxing yourself. "If you can smell your stress body odor, it is time to take care of yourself, do more mind body techniques, and try and not let this natural phenomenon get you down, but to use it as a tool that you are reacting internally and take care of your mind and how you deal with stress," Trattner says.