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Wednesday, April 1, 2015
Many parents have visited NetWellness with questions about their child's body odor. Luckily, body odor in itself usually does not signify a problem. As children mature, it is not uncommon to begin to have issues with body odor. Body odor is typically caused by bacteria which lives on the skin and breaks down skin oils which produce the smell. In a few cases, it can also be a sign of another condition such as puberty coming too early in younger children.
Some rarer causes of unusual body odor in young children are premature adrenarche (early onset of puberty) and a variety of rare metabolic disorders, such as phenylketonuria. These conditions will require a physical examination to allow prompt diagnosis and treatment.
Strong body odors also accompany other problems in the body’s processing of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Because states vary widely in the newborn screening tests required, it is possible that a problem existing at birth may not be recognized until the child's body odor prompts an investigation.
It would be a good idea to draw this unusual odor to the attention of your child's pediatrician and ask for an evaluation. One suggestion is not bathing the child prior to the visit so that the odor about which you are concerned is clearly apparent. The physician will likely examine your child for any signs of early puberty, such as underarm or pubic hair, breast development or enlargement of the clitoris. Also, your health care provider will want to check for various metabolic disorders by testing for thyroid or other hormone levels. Depending on what the primary care provider finds, your child may be referred to a pediatric endocrinologist or other specialist.
This article is a NetWellness exclusive.
Last Reviewed: Aug 12, 2014
Allison A Macerollo, MD
Clinical Assistant Professor of Family Medicine
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University
Anne Matthews, RN, PhD
Associate Professor of Genetics
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University