We’ve all been there. After a grueling workout or on a 90-degree day when you realize you smell. You might feel similarly after eating a dish full of onions or pungent spices, when you realize your breath reeks. And while these odors come with the territory and can be remedied by a shower or a quick Listerine rinse, others are more difficult to combat and can signal more serious problems.
“Body odor can signal much more serious issues like diabetes, infections, even athlete’s foot,” says Dr. Tony Hampton, a family medicine physician with Advocate Health Care. “The odors you emit can actually say a lot about your health and well-being, so it’s important to pay attention and speak up when you notice an irregularity.”
Dr. Hampton says these odors are cause for concern:
- Stinky feet. “Athlete’s foot is a very common problem that causes foot irritation, which can lead to a smell that is quite noticeable,” says Dr. Hampton. In addition, any type of infected wound generally emits a scent. “I often smell the skin of patients to get a sense of whether their wound is infected.”
- Fruity breath. It may be hard to believe, but up until the 11th Century, the urine of people with diabetes was thought to be sweet tasting. The diagnosis of diabetes was made by “water tasters” who would drink the urine of those suspected of being diabetic. Thankfully, we now have lab tests to help diagnose patients, but the fact remains that fruity breath is still a key indicator of an issue, says Dr. Hampton. If you notice this distinctive smell along with other warning signs, it’s time to consult a physician.
- Ammonia. Ever notice the smell of ammonia when you head to the restroom? It may be a sign that you have a bladder infection. “When we are testing in the clinic, the smell of our patients’ urine usually validates their symptoms, and often, we know there is an issue before we even get the results back,” says Dr. Hampton.
“Another potential indicator I’ve noticed is the smell of raw fish,” says Dr. Hampton. “Some of my patients with liver failure emit this odor. In addition, my psychology colleagues have suggested that some schizophrenia patients’ sweat smells of vinegar. Bottom line, if you notice a peculiar smell, and it lasts for a prolonged period of time, you should consult a physician.”