Sweat is an amazing adaptation that has allowed people to live in just about any climate—even the arid deserts of the Southwest and the hot and humid summer climate of the East Coast. Still, sweat can be irritating when it is not helping you stay cool or it is producing an embarrassing odor. Knowing what is causing your excessive sweat or unusual body odor can be helpful in managing the problem as well as identifying any potential health issues that can go along with it.
What’s in your sweat?
Have you ever wondered why sweat on your abdomen seems relatively odorless while underarm sweat tends to have its own distinctive aroma? Interestingly, the sweat produced in your underarms and in certain other areas like the scalp and genitals is different from the sweat produced around the rest of your body. Armpit sweat comes from apocrine sweat glands, which produce thicker sweat than the eccrine sweat glands covering the rest of your body. Both types of sweat are primarily made up of water, salt, chloride, and potassium, and they are actually odorless. It’s the bacteria on the skin that interacts with proteins found exclusively in apocrine sweat causing it to stink.
Why are you sweating so much (or so little)?
Typically, you get sweaty because you’re hot, and sweat is your body’s way of cooling down. Wetting the skin helps it stay cool, especially when a light breeze kicks up or a fan is blowing. Sweat can also occur as a response to nerves, hormones, or unfavorable foods, so it’s important to pay attention to perspiration that takes place when you aren’t particularly warm.
You’re nervous – Apocrine sweat glands tend to act up during emotional responses, so you might have sweaty pits when you are on a big date, presenting a meeting at the office, or facing some other source of stress and anxiety. If you find that you always seem to sweat, even when you are not facing stress or are in warm conditions, you may be suffering from hyperhidrosis, which will primarily affect the palms of the hands and the underarms. Prescription deodorant can often resolve the problem, so don’t hesitate to discuss heavy perspiration with your doctor.
You need to change your diet – If your sweat has taken on a scent different from typical B.O.—a fishy aroma—you may need to change your diet dramatically to eliminate the odor. Some people have a condition that will prevent the body from breaking down a chemical compound found in eggs, fish, and legumes, causing the body to emit a fishy odor. Other foods like curry powder and garlic can cause you to stink a little too, but those effects will be temporary.
You’re pregnant – Hot flashes are an effect commonly associated with menopause, but if you’re too young for menopause, your hot flashes may be an early sign of pregnancy. When certain hormones spike, the body has difficulty regulating its temperature, causing you to sweat and feel hot, regardless of the weather outside.
You are sick – When you feel cold but you’re continuing to sweat, your body might be trying to fight off a fever, which can indicate a bacterial infection, flu, or other common illness. If cold sweats are chronic, something more serious could be to blame.
You are dehydrated – As you do venture into the summer heat, pay close attention to how you sweat. If sweat stings your eyes, it might be particularly salty, meaning you need to drink more water. If you aren’t sweating at all despite high temperatures or moderate activity, you should get out of the heat right away, because your body is not able to effectively cool itself down.
For help getting to the bottom of body odor, connect with a medical provider anytime through MeMD. You can skip the hassle of scheduling a doctor’s appointment with a long wait while getting the treatment you need to stay fresh and restore your confidence.