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Sweat smelling bad? Here's what you can do

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Is foul odour coming out after a bout of intense exercise? Went outside in a hot summer, and friends or family pulled away from you as soon as you started sweating? Maybe your sweat is giving a pungent smell, making people uncomfortable. You may be the last person to realise that.

Sweat is released from glands on our skin. It has a lot of benefits, such as providing a pathway of excretion for toxic chemicals. By itself, sweat or perspiration is colourless and odourless. However, if it comes in contact with bacteria, there is a problem. Bacteria work on the dried perspiration, breaking it down into acids and producing a foul odour.

There is a term for malodorous sweat-bromhidrosis. It is not a disease but rather a manifestation of underlying conditions. People with bromhidrosis may have underlying conditions causing the foul-smelling sweat.

This problem is more common in people with hyperhidrosis, i.e., excess sweat. Adults are usually more at risk. Certain areas of the body are more likely to produce such odours. These include the groin, feet, armpits, private parts, behind the ears, etc.

Bad odour is not that uncommon. While not life-threatening, it is a nuisance and can cause social embarrassment, lowering the quality of life. Therefore, proper treatment may be required to manage it.

There are many options, depending on the odour's severity. Serious conditions may require medication or surgery. But most often, adopting simple hygienic practices is enough.

The main culprit for bromhidrosis is the bacteria. If we wash the skin regularly, we can neutralise it. Therefore, a bath or shower is the best way to mitigate bromhidrosis. If we can do it daily, that is best. If not, at least a few times a week is necessary.

An antiseptic or antibacterial soap should be used, and plenty are available on the market. If the odour is prominent in particular areas, special attention must be paid to those, and more vigorous washing may be required.

A deodorant or antiperspirant is a good way to suppress the odour. The ideal time to apply such a product is immediately after the shower. We should also start using it while going out in the sun.

Trimming hair in areas like the armpit and around private parts is also important for good hygiene. Having too much hair in those parts slows sweat evaporation, allowing bacteria a longer time to break it down and creating a bad odour. So, regular shaving may help to avoid that.

Attention needs to be paid to what we are wearing, too. The best choice is clothing made from breathable fabrics, e.g., cotton, wool or silk. Ideally, clothes should be washed every time they are worn. During exercise, polyester or nylon clothing is more appropriate. These fabrics can soak in moisture, minimising the amount of malodorous sweat.

Certain foods can increase the risk of foul smell from sweat, e.g., chillies, onion, garlic, etc. If our diet includes a large portion of these spices, it is imperative to reduce that. Excessive protein is also considered a cause of malodorous sweat. So, our diet should be properly planned to be healthy and balanced.

Generally, the bad odour can be controlled by hygienic lifestyle practices. However, there may be situations when these are not enough. If so, we need to contact a dermatologist/physician for advice. This is especially important if we start sweating profusely at night for no apparent reason, experience cold sweats or sweat irregularly and excessively.

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