Dr Tang, Medical Director at private healthcare clinic Pall Mall Medical speaks to the Press about bad breath odours and their potential health implications
Uncover the secrets of unusual breath scents and how they could indicate underlying health concerns.
What smells could indicate something wrong with your health when it comes to your breath?
“Foul-smelling breath, also known as halitosis, can be an indicator of various underlying health issues. The odour is often caused by the presence of certain bacteria in the mouth, but it can also originate from other parts of the body.
“A fruity or sweet smell on the breath can be a sign of uncontrolled diabetes. It's caused by the presence of high levels of ketones in the body, which are produced when the body breaks down fat for energy instead of using glucose.
“Breath that smells like ammonia could indicate kidney problems or a urinary tract infection. The body may be excreting excess ammonia through the breath due to improper kidney function.
“A fishy odour on the breath might be associated with trimethylaminuria, a rare genetic disorder that affects the body's ability to break down a compound called trimethylamine. This condition can cause a strong fishy smell in the breath, urine, and sweat.
“Acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can lead to a sour or acidic smell on the breath. Stomach acid backing up into the oesophagus can cause this unpleasant odour.
“Extremely foul-smelling breath that resembles a rotten or faecal odour could be linked to an underlying gastrointestinal issue, such as a bowel obstruction or other digestive problems.
“A metallic or iron-like smell on the breath could be related to certain medical conditions, such as respiratory tract infections, bronchiectasis, or problems with the liver or kidneys.
“Similar to a fruity smell, a nail varnish remover -like odour on the breath could be indicative of diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), a serious complication of diabetes that occurs when your body produces high levels of blood acids called ketones.
“A rotten egg smell on the breath might be caused by certain foods, but it can also indicate an issue with digestion or the presence of certain bacteria in the digestive tract.
“Sometimes, bad breath may not have a distinct odour but may leave a metallic or stale taste in the mouth. This could be due to poor dental hygiene, gum disease, or other oral health problems.
“It's important to note that bad breath can often be attributed to more common and less serious causes, such as poor oral hygiene, certain foods, or smoking.
“But if you notice persistent foul-smelling breath that doesn't improve with proper dental care, it's advisable to consult a healthcare professional.”
What smells could indicate something wrong with your health when it comes to your sweat?
“Changes in body odour, including unusual or strong odours in sweat, can sometimes indicate underlying health issues.
“As with breath, sweet or fruity smelling sweat could be a sign of diabetes. When diabetes is not well-controlled, the body may produce ketones, which can give off a distinct odour resembling fruit.
“An ammonia-like smell in sweat might be related to kidney or liver problems. The body might be excreting excess nitrogen in the form of ammonia, which can lead to this odour.
“If your sweat has a fishy odour, it could indicate a rare metabolic disorder called trimethylaminuria, where the body is unable to break down a compound called trimethylamine. This can result in a strong fishy smell in sweat, urine, and breath.
“Musty or mouldy smells might be associated with a genetic disorder called phenylketonuria (PKU), this is when the body can't properly process the amino acid phenylalanine. This can lead to the accumulation of certain compounds that have a musty odour.
“Sour or vinegary smelling sweat could be related to a bacterial or fungal overgrowth on the skin. It might be associated with conditions like bacterial vaginosis or fungal infections.
“Persistent foot odour, particularly if accompanied by flaking or itching, might indicate athlete's foot (a fungal infection) or hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating).
“Emotional stress and anxiety can sometimes lead to excessive sweating, which can result in a strong, pungent odour. This might not necessarily indicate an underlying health issue, but it's worth addressing if it becomes a chronic problem.”
What smells could indicate something wrong with your health when it comes to your nose?
“Certain unusual or persistent smells coming from the nose could indicate underlying health issues.
“An ammonia-like smell in the nose could be a sign of kidney or liver problems. If this smell is persistent, it's advisable to consult a healthcare professional and have it investigated.
“Metallic or bleach-like smells in the nose could be associated with nasal infections, such as sinusitis, or even a foreign object stuck in the nasal passage.
“A persistent foul or rotten smell in the nasal passages could be a sign of a sinus infection, postnasal drip, or even a dental abscess.
“While not a specific smell, the loss of your sense of smell (anosmia) could be indicative of various conditions, including respiratory infections (like COVID-19), sinus problems, neurological disorders, or even certain medications.
“And some people with certain neurological conditions, such as epilepsy, might experience a burnt or toast-like smell before having a seizure.”
At Pall Mall, you can book a private GP appointment and skip the waiting list with no NHS referral needed.