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Armpit Odor

What is Armpit Odor?

Also known as underarm odor, the smell resulting from this condition can be unpleasant. The medical term used for foul-smelling sweat or perspiraration is bromhidrosis.

This occurs during puberty, particularly at the axilla (armpit) due to apocrine gland secretion [1]. Most of the time, this condition is associated with underarm sweating.  Naturally, sweating is odorless. The bacteria gather on the site where sweat is released, resulting to the smelly odor [2]. This usually leads to feelings of embarrassment and low self-esteem.

Sweating and Body Odor

This can result from different factors such as physical exertion, stressful circumstances, or hot environment. These are normal because they are natural occurrences in the body.

Perspiration and odor can be a minor problem not unless it becomes unmanageable and easily distinguished. Excessive or lack of sweating, as well as body odor, may present as a medical problem. [3]

Sweat or perspiration is known to be the common cause of body odor. According to a study published in Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, men are known to sweat twice as much as the women do. This is due to the fact that although women have more sweat glands, men’s sweat glands work harder than women’s. [4]

Armpit Odor-armpit odor sweating

Picture 1: Armpit odor

Source: http://static.ddmcdn.com

Human Secretory Glands

These glands are divided into two types:

1. Eccrine Glands

  • These are distributed throughout the body’s skin surface.
  • These glands are also responsible for thermoregulation which occurs through sweat excretion. [5]

armpit odor-eccrine glands

Picture 2: Eccrine Sweat Glands

Source: health.howstuffworks.com

 2. Apocrine glands

  • These glands are located in certain parts of the body such as the axilla (armpits), breasts, and genital skin.
  • Unlike the eccrine glands, apocrine glands have no role in thermoregulation.
  • Also, it is responsible for the characteristic pheromonic odor.
  • These glands have accumulation of bacteria on them before the secreting through the skin. When the secretions are released, bacteria and other toxins come with it. This results to the foul armpit odor. [5]

 Armpit odor-apocrine

Picture 3: Apocrine Sweat Glands

Source: health.howstuffworks.com

 

Causes of Armpit Odor

1. Two types of bromhidrosis

  • Apocrine origin: This mostly occurs among the dark complexioned people of Africa. In apocrine origin, it occurs at puberty. Corynebacterium is the bacteria which is responsible for the foul armpit odor due to the fatty acids.
  • Epocrine origin: The armpit odor caused by this origin occurs to people of any race. [1]

2. Skin condition

  • Armpit odor may result when the skin of the underarms’ condition is deteriorating. This is caused by thick layer of keratin pigment. [1]

3. Medical Conditions

Some medical conditions affect the person’s perspiration. These are:

  • Diabetes
  • Alcoholism
  • Hyperthyroidism or overactive functioning of the thyroid glands
  • Menopause: There is an increased perspiration among menopausal women.
  • Liver Disease
  • Kidney Disease [4, 7]

4. Diet

Some foods eaten may cause armpit odor such as:

  • Fish
  • Curry
  • Hot peppers
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Red meat [6]

5. Emotional Stress

During stressful circumstances, the fatty sweat is secreted into the gland tubule. Then, as the contraction of the tubule occurs, sweat is pushed to the skin surface. From that point, the sweat is broken down by the bacteria. That bacterial breakdown of the apocrine sweat is the culprit for the unpleasant odor. [3] There have been studies stating that emotions can affect the body odor. For people who experience stress and anxiety, their sweat will smell differently compared to the days when they are relaxed. [8]

Armpit Odor Treatment

1. Hygiene

Unpleasant body odor results from the growth of bacteria in warm and moist areas of the body such as the armpits. The first thing that should be done to eliminate the bad odor is cleanliness. [2]

  • Shower more than once a day, especially for people who live in tropical countries. Also, shower after workout.
  • Use warm water during baths. The warm water aids in killing the bacteria on the skin.
  • Use antimicrobial deodorant soaps.
  • Dry the moist areas with towel to get rid of the bacteria. Moisture attracts microorganisms.
  • Trim armpit hair: The favorite environment of bacteria that causes the odor is moist, dark, and hairy places. For those who do not want to shave underarm hair, just keep them dry and clean to prevent the production of the smelly odor.
  • Deodorant: By using this, the odor is eliminated, not the perspiration. These deodorants are usually alcohol-based. This turns the skin to acidic environment, which makes it an inappropriate home to the bacteria. Also, there are deodorants which have fragrances, so the odor of perspiration is masked.
  • Antiperspirant: These come in aluminium-based compounds. They work by blocking the pores where sweat comes off. When perspiration is reduced, the bacteria’s interaction with the sweat prevents the occurrence of foul armpit odor.
  • Use deodorants and antiperspirants at bedtime. Though the use of these products is effective during daytime, the skin is able to absorb more of the components of these products at night. This will make the effect on the skin last throughout the day.
  • Use baby powder. This is also an effective way in treating armpit odor. [1, 2, 3, 6, 7]

2. Wear proper clothing

  • Breathable clothing: Consider the use of clothes made from cotton and wool. These materials are great for preventing armpit odors because they allow free air circulation, thus preventing moisture.
  • Fresh and clean workout clothes: To avoid unpleasant odors after working out, pretreat the clothes with sodium bicarbonate or baking soda. Do this for an hour before washing them. Also, the greasy sweat can be eliminated by using 1 cup of vinegar with detergent when washing them. Then, hang and let them dry instead of placing them in a dryer.
  • Use loose fitting clothes: This allows more air for the body. This prevents perspiration from occurring. [2, 9]

3. Diet modification

  • Limit or avoid foods that may cause foul armpit odor. Some foods which should be avoided to prevent armpit odor are: garlic, curry, spices, onions, red meat, vinegar, blue cheese, and cabbage.
  • Increase water intake: Water helps to flush the waste products and toxins from the body. The less toxins means less bacteria. This results to less body odor.
  • Eat fruits, vegetables, and whole grains more often: These do not only improve the body’s health and metabolic function but also lowers the body’s stress levels. By decreasing the stress levels, there is less perspiration and armpit odor.
  • Include vitamin-rich foods and herbs: These are beneficial in storing the body’s optimal state. Also, foods which are rich in chlorophyll such as kale and spinach neutralize the foods that can cause underarm odor.
  • Detoxification diet is also suggested by some experts to rid of the armpit odor. [2, 6]

4. Relaxation techniques

  • Try activities such as meditation, biofeedback, or yoga. These can reduce the body’s stress levels which triggers the sweating. [3]

5. Maintain proper body and room temperature

  • Since being in a hot place, makes people sweat, maintain cooler temperature in sleeping and workout rooms. 
  • Choose light and loose fitting clothes. [2]

 6. Alternatives

  • Witch Hazel: This is an herb found in North Eastern America. This has been known to have deodorant properties. It decreases sweat production as well.
  • Baking Soda: This aids by having deodorizer and cleanser effects on the armpits when applied.
  • Crystal Rock: This is composed of mineral salt and is effective in reducing sweating that can cause the armpit odor. [2]

7. Consult a doctor

  • When the abovementioned treatments are given a try, consult a dermatologist (skin specialist). They may prescribe other treatments such as antibiotics to kill the bacteria, as well as oral prescription medicines to decrease perspiration.
  • Botulinum toxin: This toxin is derived from Clostridium botulinum. Usually, this is injected to the armpits to lessen the sweating in the target area. There are approximately 12 injections to be given in a span of not more 45 minutes. The treatment can last for two to eight months.

armpit odor-botulinum injection

Picture 4: A patient getting Botulinum injection at the armpit

Source: health.howstuffworks.com

  • Iontophoresis therapy: This therapy involves the use of an electric current which is sent to the target area that produces more sweat. Then, as the result of this treatment, it reduces perspiration as well as odor production.

Armpit odor-intophoresis therapy

Picture 5: How Iontophoresis is done

Source: klimadeodorant.com

  • Surgical treatment: Another option to eliminate underarm odor is a surgical procedure called superficial liposuction curettage is done. This procedure removes the sweat glands by suctioning the fats through small cuts through the skin. Though this may be high-risk and have longer healing time, the results of the procedure lasts longer. This is actually the last resort when all else fails. [1, 4, 6, 7]

 armpit odor-superficial lipo

Picture 6: How Superficial Liposuction Curettage of the armpit is done

Source: sciencedirect.com

Points to Consider

Armpit odor is a common problem for most people. Having this condition may lead to issues in self-confidence and may cause embarrassment. This is can be treated completely starting with good hygiene practices. Then, it is followed by diet and lifestyle modification. If these natural treatments fail, consult the doctor for prescribed medication or other available treatment.

 

References:

1. http://diseasespictures.com/armpit-odor/

2. http://www.md-health.com/Underarm-Odor.html

3. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/sweating-and-body-odor/DS00305

4. http://www.healthtoday.net/Feature/2012/04Apr/BootOutBodyOdor.aspx

5. http://www.prlog.org/10216168-armpit-odor-treatment-strategies-that-work.html

6.http://health.howstuffworks.com/skin-care/underarm-care/problems/eliminate-underarm-odor2.htm

7. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/173478.php

8. http://www.hyperhidrosistreatments.org/underarm-odor.html

9. http://www.health911.com/body_odor



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