Breath contains distinct scents and volatile biomarkers that can help detect several diseases. In fact, dogs are known to detect low blood glucose levels, seizures activity in brain and cancers, by sniffing a person's breath. Giant rats in Africa are known to have the ability to smell tuberculosis infection.
Can you believe the practice of using breath to diagnose disease dates back to the time of Hippocrates around 400 BC? An astute physician can diagnose several medical conditions by noting the type of breathing and odor associated with a person's breath.
Breathing Problems in Disease
Difficulty in breathing or shortness of breath may indicate underlying heart or lung disease. For example, an increased respiratory rate may be associated with anxiety.
Snoring and sleeping with the mouth open in children may indicate presence of adenoids.
Sleeping on one's back with mouth open can dry the mouth and promote bacterial growth resulting in ''morning'' bad breath.
Bad Breath Associated with Certain Foods
Most cases of bad breath or halitosis are physiological and do not signify disease. Common examples of physiological halitosis include:
Morning breath due to drying of the mouth, sleeping with the mouth open,
smoker's breath due to chemicals in cigarette smoke,
after eating certain foods - for example, garlic, onions, cabbage, spices, sprouts, etc,
after excessive alcohol consumption
fasting, dieting or being on a low-carbohydrate diet-dries out the mouth.
Physiological halitosis can be reduced or prevented by rinsing the mouth thoroughly and gargling or chewing mint after eating certain strong-smelling foods.
Types of Breath Odor in Disease Conditions
The smell of breath can also provide important clues in the diagnosis of certain diseases.
The common breath odors include stinky odor, fruity odor, metallic odor, fishy odor, sour taste and odor, moldy breath.
Read on to learn more about the various types of breath odor and associated disease conditions.
Breath in Immunosuppressed State
Presence of breath odor associated with white coating on the tongue may indicate oral thrush and yeast infection.
Yeast infection is common in persons receiving cancer chemotherapy, steroids or other immunosuppressive drugs, for example post-transplant, conditions caused by reduced immunity such as HIV infection.
Other symptoms include pain in the mouth, difficulty swallowing and fissures at the angle of the mouth.
Breath in Kidney and Liver Failure
Presence of a fruity odor or the smell of nail polish in the breath may be a sign of diabetic ketoacidosis and poorly controlled diabetes. It means that the body cells are using fat for fuel rather than glucose indicating low levels of the insulin hormone. Be sure to consult your doctor immediately.
A sweet moldy odor occurs in liver failure and is referred to as fetor hepaticus or 'breath of the dead' indicating severe liver disease which can be fatal.
Sour or Acidic Breath
Breath associated with a sour smell and acidic taste in the mouth can occur in gastric acid reflux disease. In this condition, the stomach acid and contents regurgitate back up into the food pipe giving a characteristic sour taste along with bits of food and liquid.
Breath smelling like or leaving a taste of sour milk in the mouth can occur in lactose intolerance, and is associated with nausea, bloating, abdominal discomfort and diarrhea on eating dairy foods.
Bad Breath in Stomach and Respiratory Diseases
A stinky breath associated with nausea and heartburn may occur in H pylori infection which is linked to stomach ulcers and cancer.
Bad breath may also occur in respiratory infections when the mouth is filled with secretions containing bacteria and occurrence of postnasal drip. Usually the foul breath will disappear when the cold resolves.
Some drugs can dry the mouth and cause bad breath. Examples include nitrates, anticancer drugs, vitamins and certain sleep aids.
Conditions in Mouth Causing Bad Breath
Rotting smell in the breath occurs when food particles left behind in the mouth decompose due to bacterial infection.
A dirty diaper odor occurs when food and other debris get stuck in the tonsil and harden over time forming a stone within the crypts of the tonsil. These conditions can be easily prevented by regular brushing and flossing after food and rinsing the mouth thoroughly and gargling after eating.
A fishy odor is described in kidney failure due to accumulation of toxins in the blood.
Latest Na-Nose Technology to Diagnose Disease
Interestingly, a new experimental technology claims to smell and determine the chemical composition of the breath and diagnose upto 17 conditions. Scientists from Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, claim their Na-Nose technology, which employs nano rays to analyze breath, can diagnose Parkinson's disease, renal failure, several cancers, multiple sclerosis and Crohn's disease with 86% accuracy.
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