What your breath can tell doctors about your health



What could your doctor detect by telling you to open your mouth?

Checking your breath now and again can really save you those awkward moments - and quite surprisingly, your life too.Bad breath doesn’t always mean poor hygiene, it may be a symptom of an untreated disease. The smell of your breath can say a lot about your different health issues. These can range from lung cancer to kidney failure.The following could be your health status according to your breath.

If your breath:

Smells fruity

This could be a sign of poorly managed diabetes. When your sugar levels aren't stabilised, your weakened body isn't able to fight bacteria that can cause infections and harm the gums. This usually happens if your diabetes is poorly managed.Fruity breath or odour similar to acetone (commonly used in nail polish remover) can also point to a serious complication in diabetics called ketoacidosis.

This is when the body doesn't have enough insulin, and instead it uses fatty acids for energy. When this happens, acidic ketones are formed, which are by-products of fat metabolism. These acids can collect in the blood and lead to a diabetic coma or death.

Smells like sour milk

A sour milk smell is a sign of lactose intolerance. This means your body can’t break down the protein in milk. Acid reflux or heartburn may also cause this.To help control the smell and make it disappear, you’ll have to deal with the condition first. Change your diet and exclude certain foods like garlic, spicy foods, alcohol and coffee.

Smells like a dirty nappy

The main culprit for this is a tonsil stone. When bacteria and pieces of food get stuck in your tonsils, they can form a “stone” in the gaps. Tonsil stones collect in your throat on the tonsils, and to treat this condition, you’d have to see a doctor to help get rid of them. 

Smells fishy

Sometimes the seafood meal you just had isn’t the cause for a fishy smell. A mouth that smells like fishy-urine odour, similar to ammonia, may signal kidney failure.The kidneys are responsible for removing toxins from the blood by creating urine. So, when they malfunction, the waste products are no longer able to filter out of the body; and a fishy smell can develop when kidney failure begins to affect the respiratory system and cause breathing problems. 

Smells rotten

Gingivitis (a type of gum disease that causes inflamed gums due to poor oral hygiene) and periodontitis (a serious gum infection that damages gums and can destroy the jawbone) are the two conditions associated with rotten teeth and bad odour from your mouth.

Smells mouldy and sweet

This means that your liver isn’t working well or may even be failing. Another symptom of this condition is the yellowing of your skin and the white parts of your eyes. If you notice this, see your doctor immediately.

sign off

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Gauteng DA leader Solly Msimanga says the party's voters want it to explore conditional coalition talks with the ANC. 
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
It's a step in the right direction. An ANC-DA coalition would be the most stable option for SA
32% - 3816 votes
The DA should focus on working with all opposition parties, including the EFF, to unseat the ANC
14% - 1705 votes
The DA should rather remain in opposition than form a coalition with the ANC or the EFF
53% - 6249 votes
Rand - Dollar
Rand - Pound
Rand - Euro
Rand - Aus dollar
Rand - Yen
Brent Crude
Top 40
All Share
Resource 10
Industrial 25
Financial 15
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.