HEALTH TALK: Sweat and body odor

Dr. Victor Emanuel MD
Dr. Victor Emanuel MD

Exercising, exerting yourself, stress, anxiety, nervousness, or being in a hot environment can result in sweating and body odor. This type of sweating and body odor is natural and healthy.

Sweating is usually not a big deal. Body odor can be more problematic. Perspiration is practically odorless, but it can sometimes cause an unpleasant smell when it comes into contact with bacteria which can always be found on your skin, and on hair, such as in your armpit or pubic area.

Excessive sweating (hyperhidrosis) or little or no perspiration (anhidrosis) can be worrisome. Similarly, changes in body odor may be a sign of a medical problem. As I write, I’m trying to imagine how many people would come to the doctor to find out why their body has an odor at all.

Lifestyle and home treatments can take care of normal sweating and body odor. But sometimes a prescription antiperspirant or deodorant may be needed.


Healthy people sweat, but when, where, and the quantity varies. Most people sweat under these circumstances:

•    Exercise, especially strenuous exercise
•    Hot weather
•    Nervousness, anxiety or stress

Emotion – induced perspiration usually occurs on your face, in your armpits, on your palms and on the soles of your feet. But the extent of your anxiety and even the way your sweat may smell can be determined by your mood, your diet, some drugs and medical conditions, and even your hormone levels. In fact, some people inherit a tendency to sweat heavily, especially on their soles and palms.

It’s almost impossible to define normal sweating and body odor, so try to learn what’s normal for you. This will help you to pin down any unusual changes.

See the doctor if:

•    You suddenly begin to sweat much more or less than usual.
•    Sweating disrupts your daily routine.
•    You notice a change in body odor, which may in fact be a sign of a medical problem, such as diabetic ketoacidosis or renal failure.

What Causes Sweating and Body Odor

The cause can be found in your body’s temperature regulation system, specifically your sweat glands. Sweating helps maintain your body temperature, hydrates your skin and balances your body fluids and electrolytes, such as sodium, calcium and potassium.

There are two types of sweat glands in your skin: eccrine glands and apocrine glands. Eccrine glands can be found over most of your body and open directly onto the skin’s surface. Apocrine glands develop in areas where there are a lot of hair follicles, such as on your scalp, armpits and groin, and open into the hair follicles just before it opens onto the surface of the skin.

When your body temperature increases, your autonomic nervous system stimulates the eccrine glands to secrete fluid onto your skin’s surface, where it cools your body as it evaporates. This perspiration is mainly water and salt (sodium chloride) and also contains small amounts of other electrolytes, as well as substances such as urea.

Apocrine glands secrete a fatty sweat directly into the tubule of the gland. Emotional stress can cause the wall of the tubule to contract and the sweat is pushed to the skin’s surface where bacteria start working on it. Most of the time, it’s the bacterial breakdown of apocrine sweat that causes an odor.

Are There Tests for Diagnosis?

Not in the traditional sense. Body odor is body odor. The doctor only needs his or her nose or an account from you, the patient. But blood and urine tests may be ordered to determine if the sweating results from a medical condition, such as an overactive thyroid or low blood sugar.

Treatments and Drugs

Concerned about sweating and body odor? The solution may simply be an over-the-counter (OTC) antiperspirant and deodorant.

•    Antiperspirant. Antiperspirants contain aluminum-based compounds that temporarily block the sweat pore, reducing the volume of perspiration that reaches your skin.

•    Deodorant. Deodorants can rid odor but not perspiration. They’re usually alcohol-based and turn your skin acidic, making it less friendly to bacteria. Deodorants often contain perfume fragrances intended to mask the odor of perspiration and are used on the hands and feet as well as the underarms.

If over-the-counter antiperspirants don’t help control your sweating, aluminum chloride may be prescribed. Best results are obtained by applying the antiperspirant at night to the most sweat-prone areas. Prescription antiperspirants are strong solutions that can cause red, swollen and itchy skin in some people. Wash the medication off in the morning if irritation develops.

What You Can do for yourself

The following suggestions may help reduce sweating and body odor:

Bathing daily. Regular bathing helps keep the number of bacteria on your skin under some control.

Dry your feet thoroughly after you bathe. Organisms thrive in moist areas between your toes. Use over-the-counter powders to help absorb sweat.

Choose shoes and socks made of natural materials. Leather shoes, for example, can help prevent sweaty feet by allowing your feet to breathe.

Rotate your shoes. Shoes tend not to dry completely overnight, so try not to wear the same pair two days in a row if you have trouble with sweaty feet.

Wear the right socks. Some cotton blends and wool socks help keep your feet dry because they absorb moisture. When you’re active, moisture-wicking athletic socks are a good choice.

Change your socks often. Change socks or hose once or twice a day, drying your feet well each time. Women may prefer panty-hose with cotton soles.

Air your feet. Go barefoot when you can (not if you’re diabetic) or at least slip off your shoes now and then. Sandals are good for casual wear.

Apply antiperspirants nightly. Apply antiperspirants to palms or soles of the feet at bedtime. Try perfume-free antiperspirants.

Choose natural-fiber clothing. Cotton, wool, silk, allow your skin to breathe. When you exercise, you might prefer high-tech fabrics that wick moisture away from your skin.

Change your diet. If foods or drinks cause you to sweat more than usual or your perspiration to smell, consider eliminating caffeinated drinks from your diet as well as food with strong odors, such as garlic and onions which, by the way compound matters by causing halitosis (bad breath) as well.

Try relaxation techniques. Consider these, such as yoga, meditation or biofeedback. These can assist you to control the stress that may trigger perspiration.

Let’s all stay dry and smell good.

See you next week.

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  1. sweety
    October 18, 2013

    Very informative, as usual. Thanks doc.

  2. Known
    October 10, 2013

    Treat it now or forever hold ur breath! Lol

  3. Conette
    October 10, 2013

    More Dominican should take note.

  4. PAL
    October 10, 2013

    Excellent article. Long overdue!

  5. Macaquee
    October 10, 2013

    Thanks doc. wealth of knowledge

  6. AshleyF
    October 9, 2013

    A bad breath and a strong smell can throw you down just like that. And when they smell they like to linger long around people, oh boy.

  7. boy me
    October 9, 2013

    Thanks doctor.

    October 9, 2013

    mix baking soda with cornstarch and touch of lemon grass. that your natural deodorant… no alcohol, no aluminum or other such poisons.

  9. pure Dominican
    October 9, 2013

    true. some people really smell.

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