Kids come with their own variety of fun smells. Some are expected and some are not. I'll help you figure out your stinky kid on The Scope. I'm Dr. Cindy Gellner.
Most smells that kids have can be attributed to them being active little explorers and wash off with soap, water, and tooth brushing. But what if that smell doesn't? If your smell is coming from your child's mouth and they brush their teeth regularly and are properly hydrated, the source of the bad breath could be the tonsils.
If they are red, swollen, or have white gunk on them, it could be strep, and your child should see a doctor.
If your child's tonsils look fine, but their halitosis could bowl you over, it might be from post-nasal drainage. Mucus that doesn't come out of their noses drips down their throat. They just may need some good old-fashioned nasal saline, or they may have allergies.
If your child's breath smells very fruity, and they are complaining of stomach aches a lot or have new onset bed-wetting, get their sugar levels checked at your pediatrician's office. That may be Type 1 diabetes, the kind that starts in childhood.
If the odor is from the ears, it's probably wax. Wax can be light yellow to dark brown and come with its own odd smell depending on the amount of buildup and how long it's been there. Remember, earwax is there to protect the ear canal from dirt, debris, and bacteria. If you notice a really funky smell, and there's puss coming our of your child's ear, time to get them to the doctor for some antibiotic ear drops.
Armpits. We all know armpits stink, but we don't expect it until puberty. It's not actually uncommon for younger kids to have armpit smells. This smell is due to bacteria, sweat, and hormone changes. And as long as your child doesn't have any other signs of puberty, and they're under the age of eight, it's not a concern. Puberty can hit any time after the age of eight, so the armpits can smell from then on.
I often have parents coming in saying they are not buying another pair of shoes until they figure out why their child's feet stink up the whole house. Kid's feet sweat more than adult's feet sweat. Increased sweat means increased bacteria means increased odor. Make sure your child has clean feet, changes their socks when they're sweaty, and wears breathable shoes if possible.
A trick I tell parents is to use a Crystal deodorant stick. It's a tube of salt crystal found in the deodorant section, and it's in a purple container. Wet the feet in the morning and rub the stick on it. That will help block the sweat. Also, use foot powder in the shoes to absorb any sweat and help mask the odor.
Then there are the privates no one wants to talk about. What if your daughter has a smell coming from down there? Young girls and infants may have normal vaginal odor. Diapers and urine may make the smell a little stronger. However, if your daughter has a smell, redness, itching, and may complain that it hurts when she pees, it's probably vulvovaginitis. This is very common in young girls before puberty, and it is caused by soap residue in concentrated urine. It is easily treated and your pediatrician will be able to tell you if your daughter has it.
Finally, there's the backside. If your child smells like they're constantly having gas, but they're not, check their pants. No, they don't mean to poop in their pants, but many kids do. Some kids get really constipated, so much so that liquid stool seeps out around the hard stool and leaks out into the underwear.
That is called encopresis, and it's more common than you might think. It can be very embarrassing for kids, and they won't want to say anything. Your pediatrician has ways to help you with this so that your child can be confident about being continent again.
So next time you get a whiff of something strange emanating from your child's body, think, does my child need to get in the shower or do I need to make an appointment to figure out what's that smell?
updated: March 15, 2021
originally published: April 18, 2016
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