Ever notice when someone sneezes and it leaves a certain, shall we say, stench? As if sneezing wasn’t already gross enough, smelly ones can be seriously embarrassing and more importantly can indicate certain health issues. If you’re the one whose sneezes are stinky, check out the most likely sources of the smell and what each one means for your health.
The smell: foul
The cause: sinus infection
The most common cause of a smelly sneeze is a sinus infection, says Roheen Raithatha, M.D., an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist in New York.“During a sinus infection, the infected mucus becomes stagnant in the nose and filled with foul-smelling bacteria, which can give it a bad odor,” he says. “This mucus is then expelled out the nose during a sneeze.” Yuck. If you suspect this is what you have, visit your doc—he can prescribe an antibiotic that will help clear up the infection.
The smell: sour
The cause: bad breath or gum disease
Yup, bad breath = bad-smelling sneezes. When you sneeze, saliva is forced out of your nose and mouth, so stinky saliva means a smelly sneeze. If the problem persists even after popping a mint, the cause could be something more serious like gum disease, says Raithatha. Make sure you’re brushing, flossing, and cleaning your tongue regularly to keep your breath in check and your gums healthy. Going to the dentist twice a year for a cleaning and dental exam are your best bets for ensuring a healthy mouth and catching gum disease early.
The smell: ammonia
The cause: diabetes. liver, or kidney problems
Diabetes or serious liver and kidney issues can cause your breath and sneezes to smell a bit like ammonia. If this is what your sneezes smell like, Raithatha suggests starting by going to an ENT doc who can get a detailed look into your mouth and nose before you go to a specialist.
The smell: sweet
The cause: diabetes-related complications
The cause of a sweet-smelling sneeze is not as easy to pinpoint as other scents, says Raithatha. A sweet scent could point to a condition called ketoacidosis, a complication of diabetes that happens when your blood sugar is too high for too long. This rare smell can also be associated with an underlying dietary or medical issue, which is why you should visit your doc to help determine what’s going on.
The smell: smoky
The cause: cigarettes
This one is pretty obvious—if you’re a smoker (even just socially), your sneezes might start to smell like something is burning. Disgusting. Ditch the cigs, and your body will thank you.
The bottom line: “Oftentimes, a sneeze that smells will be a transient thing and is not anything serious,” says Raithatha. “But you should seek treatment if it is persistent for more than a few days.”