Offensive Odors

A. Odors From the Skin. Odors from a person's skin or clothing may result from lack of cleanliness or from some skin disease. Sweat - fluid from the sweat glands - is normally odorless. Glands in the skin produce a certain amount of oil. These two products (sweat and oil), particularly when produced in excess, undergo chemical changes as a result of bacterial action; and this decomposed mixture of sweat and oil on the skin and in the clothing produces objectionable body odor.

The reasonable way to prevent this type of body odor is to bathe frequently, using warm water and soap, and to change the underclothing. Also antiperspirants and deodorants help to control excess sweating in the armpits. Obviously they should not be used on any large portion of the skin lest they interfere with the normal provision for eliminating excess heat from the body. Deodorants serve only to cover up offensive odors and do not attack the problem at its source. When skin diseases cause body odor, it is usually because the skin lesions have become secondarily infected. Obviously, removal of the odor requires treatment of the skin disease.

B. Odors From the Mouth and Nose (Bad Breath, Halitosis). The usual cause of "bad breath" is poor oral hygiene. This situation favors disease of the gums and the teeth, which is an added cause for bad breath, as also are unhealthy conditions in the nose and pharynx such as tonsillitis. The use of tobacco may taint the breath for many hours, especially when the smoker inhales.

Any unpleasant odor originating in the organs of respiration may be exhaled as "bad breath." Thus disease of the lungs such as bronchrectasis, lung abscess, or lung cancer can cause offensive breath. Volatile substances liberated in the lungs can produce characteristic odors, i.e., alcohol, onions, and garlic. In certain systemic diseases volatile substances may be eliminated through the lungs, as in one of the complications of diabetes (sweet, fruity odor of acetone), uremia (odor of urine), or in liver failure (musty odor.)

Indigestion can also cause "bad breath," particularly when there is belching or regurgitation of stomach contents. Emotional states such as anxiety, nervousness, or irritation may aggravate the problem of "bad breath," by reflex interference with the flow of saliva or by producing indigestion.

C. Odors From Incontinence. The patient who loses control of his rectum or bladder requires diligent nursing care; otherwise there will be offensive odors. This is a problem also with patients who have had surgery involving the intestine.

Offensive Odors Signs And Symptoms

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