Body odor or bromhidrosis is the unpleasant body smell produced by the breakdown of the acids in the sweat by bacteria (1). Though it is common in adults, body odor in toddlers is uncommon because they don’t have sufficient fatty acids and ammonia in their sweat, which can trigger bacterial action. Yet, a toddler may develop body odor due to several reasons.
For instance, if body odor occurs in places like armpits, it could indicate an underlying illness. In some toddlers, armpit odor may develop due to bacterial overgrowth or an underlying infection (2). Keep reading to understand the symptoms, causes, treatment, and prevention of body odor in toddlers.
Is Body Odor Normal In Toddlers?
Body odor in children who have not reached puberty is not uncommon. However, research studies on prepubescent children with body odor are limited (3). Thus, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends paying attention to body odor among children who have not yet reached puberty (4).
What Causes Body Odor In Toddlers?
- A few toddlers may have body odor after eating certain foods like non-organic dairy products, meat, eggs, and spicy food.
- It may also be due to the presence of parasites in the body.
- Some toddlers may have hyperactive sweat glands, due to a condition called hyperhidrosis, that produce more sweat causing excessive body odor.
- A rare condition called ‘fish odor syndrome’ may cause a fishy smell in the person’s breath, urine, and sweat. It is a result of genetic abnormality, and the smell may or may not be noticed immediately after birth.
- A rare cause of body odor is heavy metal toxicity. A naturopathic doctor may do a mineral test and heavy metal toxicity test just to rule out the chance of metal toxins in your toddler.
- Rare metabolic disorders may cause armpit odor in prepubescent children, as the body may not be able to generate enzymes required to break down chemicals in the body.
- For instance, a rare metabolic disorder called Phenylketonuria (5) is a condition where the body cannot break down phenylalanine, an amino acid present in food. The phenylalanine builds up, causing a strong body odor. Consuming less protein can help control body odor.
- Your toddler may smell like rotting fish if they have a metabolic disorder called Trimethylaminuria (6).
- If the toddler has Tyrosinemia type 1 or methionine malabsorption metabolic disorder (7), they may have a distinct cabbage-like smell.
- If your toddler has Diabetic ketoacidosis (8), there is a chance that they will have a distinct breath.
Symptoms Of Body Odor In Toddlers
It is easy to discern if your little one suffers from body odor, as the smell is pungent. You may observe armpit odor or odor in the other parts of the body.
Prevention Of Body Odor In Toddlers
Take these simple measures to put body odor at bay (9).
- Teach your toddler basic hygiene and help them keep themselves clean.
- Bathe your child every morning and evening.
- Regularly launder their bedding and clothes to prevent the building up of microbes, and thereby odors.
- Avoid offering foods like non-organic milk, meat, spicy meals containing garlic, chilies, and onions to lessen your little one’s odor problems.
- Applying special antiperspirant aluminum chloride (Driclor) on your little one’s feet should reduce sweating. You can try a DIY disinfectant by adding a spoonful of vinegar to 8-ounce water. Mix well and put this mix in a spray bottle. This mix can safely be used as a disinfectant to spray the skin in the shower and then rinse it off. To stay alert on any possible reactions, do not forget to do a patch test before using the product.
- You may also consider consulting a dietitian and check for a list of foods that your toddler can avoid.
Treatment becomes easy once the underlying cause of body odor is identified (10).
- If the body odor in your little one is due to bacterial infection, the doctor may prescribe an antibiotic course to clear the odor-causing bacteria.
- The doctor may also check for any parasites in your toddler. Once the type of parasite causing body odor is diagnosed, you may proceed with subsequent treatment.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Can we use mild deodorant for toddlers?
It is advisable to talk to your toddler’s doctor before using any deodorant or perfume to tackle the odor. The doctor might suggest using a mild deodorant for your toddler without antiperspirant.
However, products containing baking soda, sage tea, diluted apple cider vinegar, or natural baby wipes, diluted essential oils, and natural deodorant crystals are safer to use for toddlers rather than the chemical deodorants. Even before using natural substances like essential oils on your little one’s skin, be careful and ensure to test it on a small area on the leg or arm initially, to avoid allergic reactions.
2. When does a child generally begin to show body odor?
Typically, body odor does not occur until a child hits puberty. If a child experiences it earlier (before eight years in girls and before nine years in boys), it is considered as early puberty or precocious puberty. During this period, the underarm odor can be noted in children.
3. Why do my toddler’s armpits smell like onions?
According to Dr. Erum N. Ilyas, MD, MBE, FAAD, a Pennsylvania-based board-certified dermatologist, “The bacteria most often linked to body odor include Staphylococcus species, such as hominis and epidermidis as well Cutibacterium avidum.
Staphylococcus hominis is prevalent in the neck folds, under the arms, and inguinal folds of children and is linked to acetic acid production resulting in a sour odor. The bacteria also produce sulfur, creating an odor similar to onions.”
Body odor in toddlers is not common as in adults. The causes for body odor in toddlers may range from something as simple as what they eat to some more serious conditions such as metal toxicity, etc. Certain hygiene measures such as regular bathing, wearing clean clothes, regular changing of bedding, etc., can help prevent bad odor. Do not hesitate to consult your child’s doctor if you have any doubts regarding the reasons for body odor in toddlers.
2. What Causes Bromhidrosis?; Pediatric Education (2009)
3. Tze Hau Lam et al.; Understanding the microbial basis of body odor in pre-pubescent children and teenagers; National Center For Biotechnology Information (2018)
4. Odor (Unusual Urine and Body); Pediatric Care Online; American Academy of Pediatrics
5. Why Does My Child Have Body Odor?; Net Wellness
6. Trimethylaminuria; Genetics Home Reference; National Institute of Health; U.S National Library of Medicine
7. Amino Acid Disorders; New Born Screening Information; Screening Technologies And Research in Genetics
8. DKA (Ketoacidosis) & Ketones; American Diabetes Association
9. Sniffing Out Solutions to Pre-Teen Body Odor; Children’s Hospital, Los Angeles
10. Tanja Schlereth et al.; Hyperhidrosis—Causes and Treatment of Enhanced Sweating; National Center For Biotechnology Information (2009)
11. Heavy Metal Poisoning; NORD
12. Microbial Origins of Body Odor; American Society For Microbiology
13. Jacob Reinhart; Early Detection of Diabetic Ketoacidosis by Breathalyzer in a Sailor Reporting for Duty; (2019)