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Child has started sweating with bad smell. Is this a serious problem?

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My son is 13 and is a lot like his father - not active, overweight. Like his father, he has started a "clammy sweat" irregularly, but the sweat has a horrendously strong "sweet oily" smell to it. (Sorry, I know that must sound weird!) I am extremely worried because my husband displayed the same symptoms for months with no diagnosis despite repeated visits to the doctor, and then ended up in an emergency quadruple bypass surgery. The sweat and smell stopped the day he had surgery and hasn't come back for my husband. Do I need to freak out about my 13 YO son's heart? (I have tested his blood approx. 3 million times - LOL - hoping to get an irregular reading, but his fasting, post meal, etc. numbers are all always well within normal range.).
Posted Sat, 11 May 2013 in Infections
Answered by Dr. Sanjay Sharma 5 hours later
Thanks for placing your query here.
I can appreciate your concerns.
First of all you should stop being panicky.
Two things are clear -- the boy has no heart disease or diabetes.
Body odour, also known as bromhidrosis, is the strong unpleasant smell that occurs when he sweats and is not uncommon.
The sweat itself does not smell. The unpleasant odour is produced by bacteria on the skin that break down the sweat into acids.
Things that can make body odour worse include:
1/-being overweight
2/-eating XXXXXXX or spicy foods
3/-certain medical conditions, such as diabetes (which he does not have but is prone to)
Sweating is body’s mechanism to cool itself.
In excessive sweating, the nerves responsible for triggering our sweat glands become overactive and call for more perspiration even when it is not needed.
The problem worsens if we are under stress or nervous.
Excessive sweating often can be embarrassing and distressing.
The inconvenience of it can also have a negative impact on your quality of life.
Lifestyle changes;
The following suggestions may help reduce sweating and the associated body odour & can improve his symptoms and make him feel more self-confident.
1 Avoid known triggers that make sweating worse, such as spicy foods and alcohol.
2 He should use soap to wash every day, paying particular attention to areas that sweat most, such as armpits, genital area, and feet. Washing removes sweat and reduces the number of bacteria on skin.
3 Changing his clothes and socks on a regular basis will also help.
4 Dry feet thoroughly after bath. Germs thrive in the damp spaces between your toes.
5 Use antiperspirant spray frequently, rather than deodorants.
6 Avoid wearing tight, restrictive &synthetic clothing, such as nylon.
7 Wear socks that absorb moisture, such as thick, soft socks that are made of natural fibres, or sports socks that are designed to absorb moisture.
8 Avoid wearing socks that are made out of synthetic (man-made) materials and change your socks at least twice a day.
9 Buy shoes that are made of leather, canvas or mesh, rather than synthetic material.
And, of course weight reduction & increasing outdoor activity is always beneficial & you should talk to his GP about the same.
Hope I have answered your query.

If you have any further questions, I will be happy to help.
Best regards.
Above answer was peer-reviewed by
Follow-up: Child has started sweating with bad smell. Is this a serious problem? 12 hours later
Thank you for calming my fears! My gut tells me this isn't diabetes.

However, this isn't a usual "sweat." He turns white and gets clammy. This is when the horrendous smell starts. It is a strong, "wrinkle your nose" sweet/oily stink that is overwhelming to anyone around him. It doesn't happen all the time. The last time it happened, he had just showered, washed his hair and had a full set of clean clothes on. (I have been on him about proper hygiene.)

If I take him on a vigorous walk, he "sweats" normally - perspiration, like one would expect. It doesn't smell, he just "gets wet" like everyone else.

Any insight? Seriously - the same thing happened to my husband regularly, and it stopped when he had the surgery.

Answered by Dr. Sanjay Sharma 10 hours later

Nice to hear back from you.

To be honest I have no explanation, why your husband's problem got cured after by-pass surgery.

Sweat glands are of two types: apocrine and eccrine.

Eccrine glands

Found over the entire body and produce a dilute salt solution in response to increased body temperature.
Eccrine sweat is normally odourless but can start to smell if bacteria get a chance to break down the stale sweat.
It can also assume an offensive odour after ingestion of various foods (e.g. garlic, curry), alcohol, or certain medications.

Apocrine glands

Found in limited areas, most notably the underarms, breasts and groin region and produce a thick secretion that contains pheromones (“personal scent”).
Apocrine sweat is odourless when it first appears on the skin but within an hour bacteria that normally live on the skin break down the sweat to produce an offensive body odour.
Body odour is worse if there are more bacteria present or the level of apocrine sweat production is high.

Apocrine bromhidrosis

Believed to be more common in dark-skinned ethnic groups (appear to have the largest and most active apocrine glands)
Possibly associated with a positive family history.
Only occurs after puberty, as the apocrine glands are not active until puberty is reached
More common in men than women (greater apocrine gland activity in men than in women)

Most likely your son has a combination of large & very active apocrine glands, that produce thick secretions which has a strong smell which soon gets more offensive by breakdown of skin germs.

In addition to earlier suggestions he should also try;

Washing the underarm at least twice daily with germicidal soap.
Regular shaving of underarm hair to prevent accumulation of bacteria and sweat on hair shafts.

If excess sweating is a contributing factor, this needs to be treated first, usually with the use of antiperspirants.

The treatments described above do not offer a cure .
A visit to a skin specialist may provide more permanent treatment options, and include:

Electrolysis to remove hair shaft and follicle
Removal of apocrine sweat glands by superficial liposuction
Removal of apocrine sweat glands by surgical excision

Hope things are clearer now.

Above answer was peer-reviewed by
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