Humans, at their most basic, are smelly beings. So many things about us have a scent, be it our sweat, hair, mouth, or freaking feet. And even if it smells bad, that doesn’t necessarily trigger cause for concern. (After all, my husband’s feet smell to high heaven after a hot workout, but that’s normal.)
What’s not normal is when the scents you’re accustomed to starting to change. Like, when you usually can’t smell your pee, yet all of a sudden sweet-smelling urine starts showing up. Or when your poop smells worse than usual. These are potential signs of something being off with your health, in which case you may need to call a doctor. So if you notice any of these body smells, don’t ignore them – start dialling.
1. You can actually smell your pee.
Normally urine is scent-less, or if it has a scent, it’s usually a very subtle, ammonia-like smell, says Scott Sullivan, M.D., a professor of OBGYN at the Medical University of South Carolina. So if you get a big whiff of sweet-smelling urine without even trying – and it’s accompanied by pain when you pee – schedule a gyno visit. You could have a urinary tract infection (UTI), which means you’ll need to cycle through a dose of antibiotics.
If there isn’t any pain, your diet may be to blame, Sullivan says. “Urine smell is extremely variable and could change a number of times over the course of a week; that’s perfectly normal,” he says. Strong-scented foods, like asparagus or garlic, could have an impact, as could dehydration.
2. Your sweat smells all sorts of nasty.
Let’s be frank: Sweat is not a sweet-smelling scent, um, ever. But there are certain areas of your body – like your pubic hair and underarms – that naturally give off a stronger scent than your hair, chest, and back. So if you smell yourself in those “stronger” areas, don’t freak out right away – as long as things smell the way they normally do, you’re probably fine.
But if you notice a stronger foul smell coming from those more subtle regions, pay attention. Sullivan says a rancid scent could mean your body is struggling with digestion issues. “It’s rare, but it happens,” he says. It may just be a matter of changing up your diet and adding in more high-fibre foods, but your doctor can advise you on the best course of action.
3. Your morning breath sends your partner running.
It’s not the sexiest thing in the world, but if you have bad morning breath you may be snoring or sleeping with your mouth open. Those who do tend to have dry mouth, which typically lowers the flow of saliva in your mouth. Saliva is responsible for cleaning out food particles and protecting the teeth and gums from bacterial infection, says Alice Boghosian, spokesperson for the American Dental Association. If that’s the case, your dentist can prescribe an artificial saliva mouthwash to help fix the problem.
If dry mouth isn’t the problem, have your dentist do a thorough checkup to rule out any dental health issues, like gum disease, which Boghosian says can be caused by plaque. Then head to your doctor, as bad breath could be a symptom of various medical conditions such as sinus or lung infections, bronchitis, gastric reflux, a tonsil infection, and even some liver or kidney diseases.
4. Or it smells like a bowl of fruit.
Just because it’s a more pleasant scent than say, garbage, doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods. In fact, if your breath smells like you just noshed on the entire grapefruit section of the grocery store, then head to your doctor immediately – it could mean you have diabetes, says Boghosian.
According to the American Heart Association, getting too many calories from protein, which is usually the case for those eating low-carb, can result in not enough insulin in the body, and that forces us to start burning energy from our fat stores. When we burn energy from fat, it releases chemicals called ketones. (An energy source many are now turning to on the keto diet.) “One of the signs that ketones levels are too high is a fruity smell to the breath, and if that happens it can be very serious and dangerous to one’s health,” says Boghosian. The scent could also be evident in the vaginal area, Sullivan says, so if your partner notices it while he’s pleasuring you (Sullivan notes about 50% of his patients’ partners notice problems first), that could be another warning sign.
5. Your vaginal discharge smells like fish.
Having discharge is normal. But having it come out clumpy or smelling like the raw fish market is not good, and it could be a sign of a yeast infection, sexually transmitted infection (STI), or chlamydia. As soon as you notice these symptoms, get to your gyno. Regardless of your diagnosis, it’s likely you’ll need a course of treatment.
6. Your vagina smells sour.
“Most women have a very subtle, sort of acidic or vinegary odour, and it’s usually one you wouldn’t notice from a distance; you’d have to be very close up,” Sullivan says. But if you notice your scent has become strong – and it’s likely a fishy, sour, or even musty smell – that’s a telltale sign of bacterial vaginosis (BV), an inflammation caused by the overgrowth of bacteria (usually Gardnerella) normally found in the vagina. “It can happen to anybody, and we don’t understand all the ways it can happen – it could be anything from having sexual relations with a new partner to not getting enough sleep or exercise – but this foreign bacteria helps bad bacteria, like chlamydia, do its dirty work,” he says. Treatment typically involves an antibiotic, either through a topical gel or oral medication, and can be cleared up within a week in most cases.
7. Or it kind of smells like something died down there.
It doesn’t paint a pretty picture, but it can happen, and it may mean that a foreign object (like a tampon, female condom or diaphragm) has been left in your vagina, Sullivan says. “That foreign object will start to attract bad bacteria, and that buildup is where the smell comes from,” he explains. Usually, there won’t be a major problem – having your gyno take out the object should clear the odour in a few days – but in rare, extreme cases, it could lead to a bacterial infection and toxic shock syndrome (a severe disease caused by staph bacteria). If you notice the smell and are experiencing a high fever, contact your doctor immediately. (redboook)