Ask Our Doctors: Why Does it Smell?

Smelly Burps

Stinky Ears

Jenni says her 11-month-old son, Xavier's, ears give off a foul odor. Dr. Jim gives Xavier an ear exam to determine the cause of the smell.

Dr. Ordon demonstrates why ear infections cause ears to smell.

If your burps often smell foul and rotten, you may be experiencing sulfur burps, which are caused by hydrogen sulfide, a gas emitted by sulfur-containing proteins in certain foods.

"It's the same thing that happens [with flatulence] when you have one of those bad days where you have that rotten-egg smell," E.R. physician Dr. Travis Stork says. "That's hydrogen sulfide doing its damage."

For some people, the breakdown of certain proteins can cause hydrogen sulfide and bacteria buildup in the intestines. Poultry, red meat, dairy, eggs, grains and certain fruits and vegetables, such as bananas, watermelon, avocado, asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, garlic and onions all cause hydrogen sulfide buildup. Try removing these foods from your diet for a period of time to reduce the smell of sulfur emitted from both burps and flatulence. Drinking Pepto Bismol or other stomach-soothing products can also help reduce the hydrogen sulfide, but be careful because it can cause changes in your stool.

If your sulfur burps continue, talk with your doctor, because it could be a sign of a gastrointestinal disease.

Sweat Problem
Amber, 32, says she sweats so heavily at night that it gives off a strange odor and stains her sheets and shirts. Her husband complains that the odor is reminiscent of cat urine -- and they don't even have a cat!

Why Sweat Smells

Dr. Travis demonstrates what happens when we sweat and why it often gives off a foul odor.

Dr. Ordon outlines options available to regulate excessive sweating.

Dr. Travis says that the stench probably is similar to ammonia, which is caused by urea, a byproduct of amino acids and proteins broken down in the body. If urea builds up in your system, it can come out through your sweat pores and cause the ammonia-like smell. Urea is acidic, which is the reason for the stains on Amber's sheets and shirts.

Your kidneys filter toxins and waste. If your kidneys are not functioning properly, urea, the kidneys' waste product, can build up and cause serious complications.

A kidney issue is not the only cause of this problem. "The most common reason is people are eating too much protein," Dr. Travis says. "One of the things you want to do is make sure you are getting enough carbohydrates and drink plenty of fluids."

If changing your diet does not work, see your doctor. He or she may recommend a blood urea nitrogen test to determine the cause of the problem.

Fishy Odor Down Below

Umbilical Cord Smell

Dr. Jim explains why your newborn's cut umbilical cord may give off an odor, and he demonstrates how to keep the area around the nub clean

Megan is six months pregnant and says that she notices a fishy odor after she has intercourse with her husband. She asks The Doctors if she should be concerned.

"This is pretty common," Dr. Lisa says. "It's called bacterial vaginosis. You should not have a fishy odor down there. What happens is that the magical vaginal ecosystem is imbalanced. This can happen because of pregnancy. This can happen because of having intercourse."

The vagina tends to be acidic, and when semen enters the vaginal cavity, it can change the pH. "That changes [the environment] and releases something called amines, which give off a fishy odor."

One in five women will get bacterial vaginosis at some point during pregnancy. The disorder can cause pre-term labor, miscarriage, low birth weight and a premature rupture of membranes. "So it is essential that it be treated during pregnancy," Dr. Lisa says. "Your doctor will just do a vaginal swab to determine this and treat you with safe antibiotics for pregnancy, and that's the end of it."

Best Ways to Fight the Flu
The onset of fall and winter usually means colder weather and more flu infections.

Good Germs

Dr. Jim explains why some germs can actually be your friends.

"Everyone's justifiably concerned about the flu," says Liz Vaccariello, editor-in-chief of Prevention magazine. "As far as prevention is concerned, doing some of the easiest things you can, like washing your hands often and well, that's the easiest thing that you can do, rather than going out and buying a humidifier for your room, which is going to cost a lot of money."

Liz recommends washing your hands to the tune of the song "Happy Birthday" so you can eliminate as many germs as possible. Plastic surgeon Dr. Drew Ordon suggests coughing and sneezing into your sleeve or handkerchief so you don't get germs on your hands.

"I use creative barriers," Liz says. "I use a paper towel when I'm touching doorknobs in the bathroom. And at ATM machines, I use my ATM card to punch the numbers rather than with my finger."

Another way to prevent the flu is to get the flu vaccination. Find out more about the flu and the H1N1 virus.

Prevention's Health Hearsay: Can standing near a microwave when it's on cause cancer? Liz Vaccariello has the answer!

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OAD 10/27/09