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Odorous Maladies: What Your Breath Says About Your Health

Dr. Shariq Ali khan

3 min read

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While dehydration, dry mouth, and bad oral hygiene have a direct connection to bad breath; ‘Halitosis’, as it is medically known, can also be an early warning sign for some, and a late-stage symptom for other bodily conditions, depending upon how your breath smells. Below are some breath signals you might want to memorize:

1- Metallic-Gum Disease

Periodontists is a gum infection characterized by inflammation-inducing bacterial growth under the gum line, usually due to the collection of food particles in this hard-to-reach location. Smoking and irregular oral cleansing like brushing and flossing are the greatest risk factors.

2- Sour-Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

In GERD, and other similar digestive conditions, the digestion of food is either delayed or incomplete, resulting in undigested and/or partially decayed pieces flowing within the stomach acids in the opposite direction, i.e. towards the mouth. This acid not only leaves a bad taste and causes bad breath but can also inflame and erode the mouth and teeth.

3- Fruity-Diabetes

In a condition called ‘Ketoacidosis’, the body utilizes fat for fuel instead of glucose due to the absence of, or resistance to insulin. A prime sign of uncontrolled and undiagnosed diabetes, this fat utilization process results in fruity smelling byproducts in the bloodstream, hence the smell.

4- Sweet and Moldy-Liver Failure

Advanced liver disease can interfere with the liver’s functions of drug metabolization and blood clotting protein manufacture, among others; often resulting in the accumulation of the naturally occurring yellow pigment, ‘Bilirubin’ in the eyes, which is why the scent is often accompanied by jaundice.

5- Fishy-Kidney Failure

In the final stages of renal disease, the kidneys can no longer produce urine to detoxify the body, resulting in the buildup of such toxins and body waste which, upon reaching the respiratory system, will often cause a ‘fishy’ odour. However, this is not a preliminary symptom; with more recognizable signs of kidney failure being chronic fatigue, nausea, urination issues, etc.

6- Snoring

If you snore, your mouth is open for an extended period of time. This dries the mouth and makes it an attractant of bacteria. This causes the morning breath smell. Snoring can mean sleep apnea as well, which is a breathing problem during sleep. If you get complaints of excessive snoring, get it checked from a doctor.

You can prevent snoring by sleeping sideways instead of sleeping on your back. Also, maintain good oral hygiene in order to prevent morning breath.

7- Sour Milk-Lactose Intolerance

Lactose-intolerant individuals often give off a sour or spoilt-milk like breath odour as a result of the body not being able to break down these dairy proteins. However, like renal failure, more definitive symptoms such as diarrhea or nausea often follow the consumption of dairy products.

8- Rotten-Lung or Oral Disease

An extremely foul odour resembling rotting food may indicate a lung infection like pneumonia, or a more debilitating diagnosis: lung cancer. Moreover, food deposition below the gum line or within holes (dental caries) in eroded teeth can also cause a rotten smell due to bacterial infections.

9- Dirty Diaper-Tonsil Stones

Food particles that get caught in the tonsils are cocooned by calcium deposits and form hard stones that may either only irritate the throat, or harbor bacterial growth, resulting in foul breath. However, they can usually be avoided through proper brushing and gargling after eating.

10- Mothballs-Respiratory Infections

While the hardening of mucus within the tonsils in a condition called ‘Postnasal Drip’ can clog the nose and produce strange breath odour, general coughs, colds, and chronic sinus infections can also cause a mothball-like smell by converting the mucus-contained proteins into ‘Skatole’, a naturally occurring compound found commonly in coal tar and feces.

11- Stinky-H. pylori or Internal Skin Infections

A stinky odour accompanied by nausea, indigestion, heartburn, or stomachaches is often caused by an infection of the stomach ulcer and cancer-causing bacteria, H. pylori and is usually treated with antibiotics. Other causative factors include smoking or chewing tobacco products, or bacteria-infested injuries and cuts inside the mouth.

Can Breath Analysis Help?

While not yet commonly employed, non-invasive medical breath analyses have also been proven to be vastly effective early diagnostic tools for certain conditions by checking the exhaled breath-levels of certain gases corresponding to certain conditions, some of which are given below:

  • High levels of Carbonyl Sulfide or Ethane may be indicative of cystic fibrosis, lung disease, or the rejection of a transplanted lung. Excess ethane may also indicate asthma, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), or Acute Respiratory Distress.
  • High Nitric Oxide indicates asthmatic inflammation, while low levels of the gas may indicate atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and high blood sugar.
  • Excess exhaled Carbon Dioxide can also indicate an pylori infection.
  • High Pentane levels indicate breast cancer.

If you sense any of these signs, consult with your practitioner immediately for an accurate diagnosis and prompt treatment. You can also book an appointment with a top doctor in Faisalabad, Rawalpindi and Karachi through oladoc.com, or call our helpline at 042-3890-0939 for assistance to find the RIGHT Doctor for your health concerns.

Disclaimer: The contents of this article are intended to raise awareness about common health issues and should not be viewed as sound medical advice for your specific condition. You should always consult with a licensed medical practitioner prior to following any suggestions outlined in this article or adopting any treatment protocol based on the contents of this article.

Dr. Shariq Ali khan - Author Dr. Shariq Ali khan is a cosmetic dentist and implantologist based in Lahore. He offers services like aesthetic crown & bridges, cosmetic dental surgery, and braces. You may book an appointment with him via oladoc.com.
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