Health & Fitness

Stinky body parts and how to fix them

Gretchen Dickson is a family medicine physician with WesleyCare Family Medicine Center.
Gretchen Dickson is a family medicine physician with WesleyCare Family Medicine Center. Courtesy photo

Americans spend hundreds of dollars a year on personal care products designed to battle bad breath, stinky arm pits and, ahem, more personal aromas.

The fact is, odors are human. As long as you bathe, brush and floss regularly, there's no need for high-priced sprays or washes. But occasionally, even if you’re doing all the right things, you may sniff out a stinky problem.

Bad breath

Ever notice people backing away when you approach them for a chat? They may be reacting to an unpleasant smell wafting from a sticky film of bacteria at the back of your tongue. For most people, halitosis, a.k.a. bad breath, is nothing more than a nuisance that stems from poor oral care. However, for some, bad breath may be a side effect of a sinus or bad lung infection. In more uncommon cases, chronic illnesses – like kidney and liver failure or diabetes or GERD – may also contribute.

In addition to proper oral care – brushing your teeth and tongue daily along with flossing, using mouthwash or chewing gum in case you’re without a toothbrush – eating a healthy, high-fiber diet helps too. High sugar foods and high fat foods that break down in your mouth smell worse than if you eat something high in fiber. Drink eight glasses of water a day, as your breath can worsen if your mouth is dry.

Armpit odor

If you think you smell there, assume it's not your imagination. Stress, food, and hormonal shifts can trigger a population explosion among natural skin bacteria that call your armpits home.

Your armpit is warm and moist, and as a general rule, you sweat there more than other places in your body. The chemical breakdown of that sweat triggers the stinky pit smell. There are a number of reasons a person’s smell may be worse than normal. Physiologically, a person’s body composition may just cause them to sweat more. In other cases, even if you sweat the same amount as someone else, if your armpit bacteria are more active in that region, it’s going to be more unpleasant. In some cases, people just haven’t found a good antiperspirant or deodorant that helps ease the overproduction of sweat and lock down the smell.

Wash frequently and use different kinds of deodorants or antiperspirants until you find one that works for you. And if you sweat excessively, know that there are medications you can take to help cut back on the sweating – just talk to your physician to see which may be your best bet.

Smelly “down there”

In women, vaginal aromas ebb and flow naturally with your monthly hormonal cycle. “I think most people can kind of have a sense of what's normal for them … but if they notice a change like a stronger or more unpleasant smell, that's something that they should see their doctor about,” Dickson says.

A strong fishy odor, especially after you've had sex, is a tell-tale symptom of bacterial vaginosis (BV), an overgrowth of bacteria. Other potential stink-bombs: sweating, leaving in a tampon too long (remember no more than four to six hours), infections, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and allergic or irritating reactions to things like scented soaps or body washes. In older women, bladder problems like urinary incontinence may bring about unpleasant odors.

Your first instinct may be to douche, but don’t. You want to get to the cause and treat that rather than douching. Before you start self-medicating, see your doctor or visit urgent care, as treating yourself for a yeast infection can make it harder for your doctor to detect the root cause. And while good hygiene is important – like showering after a sweaty gym session – overdoing it may take away your good vaginal bacteria and actually worsen the smell.

Other tips for staying odor free: Wash with mild soap, rinse well and wear cotton underwear during the day and none at night while you're sleeping. (You want air circulation.) Give the tight, skinny jeans a rest, too, and change out of wet or sweaty clothing promptly.

Gretchen Dickson is a family medicine physician with WesleyCare Family Medicine Center.