In this edition of our “ask the doctor” series, I am going to continue to focus on embarrassing questions that no one wants to talk about. I mean, our bodies sometimes are really just gross. From bad odors and emissions, fluids that leak from various orifices, and bodily functions that just don’t cooperate, it can really be a struggle for some people to make it through the day!
I thought that for this edition, I would talk a bit about bad odors. Let’s face it, humans are very smelly creatures. Many of us go to great lengths to mask, hide, or prevent these odors. From deodorant, perfume, air freshener, and my new favorite product Poo-pouri, there is an entire industry dedicated to dealing with our bad smells. Some of these are normal, albeit embarrassing, but some are not normal. Let’s talk a little about both, and discuss when you should talk with your doctor.
Well, we have all had experience with this! Body odor is caused by a reaction between bacteria that normally live on our skin and sweat and oils secreted by our bodies. This process amps up during puberty. Basically, the best way to prevent this is with regular bathing and the use of deodorants. Certain foods can be a trigger including onions, garlic, spicy foods, caffeine, and alcohol. If you are troubled by this problem, limiting your intake of these foods can help. There are a few situations when you should consider seeing your doctor. If you have very excessive sweating or night sweats you should consult a medical professional. Any significant change in body odor should also be investigated. For example liver disease can cause an ammonia like body odor, and uncontrolled diabetes can result in a sweet smelling body odor. But most of the time, a shower with soap does the trick!
No one ever wants to talk about this, but let’s get real ladies, we have all had this at some point or another! Most of the time it’s caused by the same culprits as body odor above. There is some normal variation based on our menstrual cycle, and after sex it’s normal to have a slight odor. It’s time to talk with your doctor when it is a persistent issue, or there are other associated symptoms like itching, discharge, burning, or trouble urinating. The most common cause of vaginal odor (causing gasp! the dreaded fishy odor) is something called Bacterial Vaginosis. This is easily treated with antibiotics. Trichomoniasis is another infection that is treatable but can cause an odor. These can be diagnosed with a simple vaginal swab and culture. It’s important not to use vaginal douches or similar products to treat odors, as these can just upset the normal vaginal pH balance and make things worse! Best way to treat normal odors is, you guessed it, good hygiene!
Halitosis, otherwise known as bad breath, can sometimes be from simple causes like eating onions or garlic, being dehydrated, or smoking tobacco products. Sometimes, though, halitosis can be a sign of underlying tooth decay or periodontal disease. There are also some medications that can be a culprit for bad breath, and uncontrolled diabetes may cause a sweet smelling breath (it’s a strange smell, not pleasant). The best way to prevent halitosis is to practice good oral hygiene including regular brushing, flossing, changing toothbrushes periodically, and getting regular dental care. If bad breath is associated with sore throat, fever, mouth sores, severe dry mouth, heartburn, sinus problems, or other symptoms, it may be a sign of a more serious problem like an infection and you should see your medical professional. Your dentist can help if you are having associated tooth pain, bleeding or red gums, or cavities.
As the mom of a tween boy, I unfortunately have become well acquainted with very smelly shoes and feet. This is rarely a serious problem, and can be easily managed with a few simple interventions. First, it’s important of course to wash the feet thoroughly with soap. They also need to be dried well. The bacteria that contribute to bad body odors thrive in a warm moist environment, i.e. our shoes. Keeping the feet dry and comfortable with moisture wicking socks, good quality shoes, and powder if needed are all helpful. Keeping socks and shoes clean and well aerated when not being worn helps, too. If you notice any peeling or cracking skin on the feet, or thickened discolored toenails, see your doctor, as this can be a sign of athlete’s foot, which is a fungal infection easily treated with creams or medicated powders.
Are you one of the people who develops very malodorous urine after eating asparagus? I am! It’s actually a genetic issue; a certain percentage of our population metabolizes a chemical in asparagus in such a way that it produces a smelly compound (harmless) that we excrete in our urine. Some folks don’t have this problem, but there are other foods that can have a similar effect. Vitamin B6 can sometimes cause a strange odor to the urine, as well as certain medications, and also urinary tract infections. If you notice a strange smell to your urine but it is temporary and resolves, it’s generally not a concern. If it persists, or is associated with pain with urination, blood in the urine, foamy urine (can be a sign of kidney disease) or other symptoms, you should see your doctor or health care provider. It’s important to note that some foods and medications can also cause a color change, in addition to an odor – i.e. beets can make your urine look pink. If you have any persistent symptoms, get checked!
This is again, a problem that most people don’t like talking about! I mean who wants to go to the doctor and complain about smelly gas? Most of the time, again, this is not a dangerous issue, and is usually related to something in the diet. The common culprits are lactose/dairy products, legumes, cruciferous veggies like broccoli, and spicy or fatty foods. If you pay attention to your diet, you can usually discover what is causing your problem. Limiting the foods that are causing you to have gas obviously helps, and taking a supplement like Beano can also help (digestive enzyme). For folks with lactose intolerance, taking Lactaid with dairy helps. Constipation is another common cause for gas. If you are not having regular BM’s, you should work on increasing the fiber and water in your diet to keep things moving along! Bloating and gas can occasionally be a sign of a more serious problem, but in these situations there are usually other symptoms like diarrhea, blood in the stool, abdominal pain, etc. If you are experiencing these you should see your doctor!
So, like I said, humans are a smelly lot! Hopefully this helps dispel some of the myths about our bad odors, and makes it easier to talk with your doctor about any concerns! The key thing to remember, is that we have ALL been there at one point or another! Poo-pouri anyone?
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