How Body Odor Works

When is Body Odor a Problem?

As we've seen, despite our use of sprays, sticks and powders, our bodies smell. It's normal. And, even though the scientific name for body odor -- bromhidrosis -- sounds like something to be concerned about, it can usually be handled by the methods previously discussed. But sometimes, when the body gives off a strong odor, it can be a sign that something is medically amiss.

Diabetes can give the breath a fruity smell and the body a distinctive odor akin to nail polish remover due to a condition known as ketoacidosis. An unusual body odor can also be a sign of liver or kidney distress. Some infections also produce foul smells; for example, a mouth abscess could cause bad breath, while a vaginal yeast infection would have an accompanying odor. Scientists have even developed a method for identifying lung cancer through breath analysis [source: Alvarez].

Occasionally, a strong body odor can be a sign of a metabolic disorder and is usually discovered in childhood. Individuals suffering from primary trimethylaminuria lack the ability to metabolize a substance known as TMA and emit a smell that has given the disease its more common name: fish-odor syndrome [source: Reuters]. Children who suffer from maple-syrup urine disease lack an enzyme to break down certain amino acids and may smell like the disease's namesake, while adults with the condition have urine that smells like burnt sugar. People afflicted with phenylketunuria are unable to break down the protein phenylalanine and can emit a musty or barn-like smell.

Another disease that is linked to excessive body odor is hyperhidrosis, a condition marked by abnormally high perspiration -- even if the individual experiencing it is cool or at rest. If prescription antiperspirants aren't enough to bring the condition under control, more severe methods may be employed. These include anti-sweating drugs; iontophoresis, the use of an electrical current that disables sweat glands; botox injections in the armpits that temporarily block sweat-stimulating nerves; and an endoscopic surgery procedure known as ETS where the nerves that cause the excessive sweating are removed.

Metabolic disorders and hyperhidrosis affect only a small portion of the population, so chances are good that the musk you make is simply your unique odor type and not a cause for alarm. However, if you try normal odor-obliteration techniques with no results, it might be time to see your doctor.

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