I am not giving anybody a lecture on personal hygiene but sitting next to anybody with a bad odour can be annoying. It is also difficult to point out to anybody of this malady which in most cases means people will carry on ‘smelling’. I used to be angry with such people thinking they were not just making the effort, but research shows the odour could be a result of a medical condition. Having said this though, there are people who do not actually shower. Recently I had a chat with a colleague at work who told me she showers only in the evening and starts a new day without having showered. I couldn’t do that and these are the people I get angry with. As human beings I think we owe it to each other to be responsible for our actions. By all means showering and changing clothes and using deodorants should be the starting point, and then see your doctor.
It's easy to make lighthearted humor about a bad body odor, attributing it to poor hygiene and the need to "take a bath", but body odor can sometimes be the principle sign of a serious health condition. If the source for body odor is medical, no amount of personal hygiene care will cure the body odor problem.
If a person lives in a warm climate and undergoes exertion, the bacteria present in the underarm area will produce breakdown products that will give off an odor if the person doesn't bathe the moist areas.
Body odour is caused by a natural process involving sweat that occurs on the skin's surface. Sweat is odourless, but if left on the skin the bacteria that normally live there feed on it and break it down. This process releases chemicals that cause the unpleasant smell.
Some areas of the skin, such as the armpits and genitals, are more likely to produce body odour because these glands produce proteins and oily substances that bacteria feed on.
Sweat elsewhere in the body is mostly salty water, which bacteria don't thrive on so easily.
The feet produce their characteristic odour. We tend to wrap them in socks and shoes, making them hot and humid and allowing fungi, as well as bacteria, to flourish.
The symptom is an unpleasant smell that may be worse in hot and sweaty conditions. The actual smell varies from person to person. The 'recipe' of sweat is individual.
Body odour may be influenced by diet. Certain foods, such as curry, garlic and strong spices, contain chemicals that may be excreted in the skin.
The smell almost always disappears with a shower or bath, but can return rapidly, especially if a person puts on unwashed clothes covered in old sweat and bacteria.
Young children rarely have body odour because the specialised glands in the armpits and genital areas don't become active until puberty.
At puberty, sweat glands develop under the stimulation of hormones and protein. Oil production by the skin in the armpits and genital areas also increases. Body odour may then become a problem, especially if hygiene is poor.
Most people can easily recognise body odour. Unfortunately, the person who has it may be so accustomed to their own smell that they don't notice.
Body odour is often easily treated and a medical diagnosis isn't usually necessary. Take regular baths or showers, at least once a day. After puberty, using an antiperspirant can help to reduce sweating, and some also inhibit bacterial growth. This is rarely needed with younger children.
Fresh clothes should be worn every day, and clothing should be washed at as high a temperature as possible, then dried as quickly as possible. Bacteria can survive in damp clothing and produce a characteristic smell.
Feet should be washed regularly, dried thoroughly and treated with antifungal powder if necessary. Avoid closed, sweaty shoes such as trainers, and wear fresh cotton socks or keep feet bare in open sandals as often as possible.
Avoiding very spicy food may also help.
When is it a sign of a serious condition?
A bad body odor can also be caused by hormonal fluctuations such as those seen in children who are undergoing puberty, women who are experiencing menopause, or persons experiencing extreme mental or physical stress. Certain persons may also be genetically predisposed to developing a strong body odor. These are all relatively "normal" causes of body odor.
More serious are the various disease states that can cause the development of a bad body odor. One of the most common medications that can cause a body odor is diabetes. This is particularly true when a person's blood sugars are poorly controlled and they develop a condition called ketoacidosis. This condition not only gives the breath a fruity smell but can also cause a distinctive body odor. This condition is considered to be a medical emergency and should be treated right away.
Bad body odor can also be a sign of serious liver or kidney disease where the body is incapable to processing and removing certain toxins due to the diseased organ. These conditions can be ruled out by blood tests which measure kidney and liver function.
Occasionally, an overactive thyroid can cause a problem with body odor due to the tendency of the patient to sweat excessively due to the hyper functioning thyroid gland. This is another condition that can be ruled out from physical examination and blood studies.
Less commonly, bad body odor can be caused by certain metabolic problems that a person is born with which causes certain metabolic breakdown products to be released through the skin.
If you've tried all the conventional remedies for body odor without success, it might be best to see your doctor and have some simple blood tests run to rule out more serious medical conditions as the cause of your body odor.
Please see your doctor whatever the case might be.
Compiled by Abigal, Author of ‘Married to a Devil’