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Skin Care and Diseases

Smelly Armpits



I am 30 years old/Female/White/5` 8"/135 pounds/no previous medical problems; For the past 20 years I have always had a problem keeping armpit odor under control... It`s not a continous thing--just if I get scared, mad or do a lot of physical activity.. heck, even walking in the mall or putting dishes away can SOMETIMES make my armpits smell. No matter what deodorant though-- it will fail! Here is the question "Please Oh Please is there a procedure to just flat out stop Armpits from sweating?"... My neighbor is the same height/weight/age, etc. and she doesn`t sweat AT ALL!! Also, many years ago I saw a documentary about a girl that had uncontrollable palm sweat and she had some kind of procedure done to stop it completely..so how about doing that to the old smelly pits?!


The scientific name for this problem is bromhidrosis and has a number of causes; probably the most frequent etiology is related to diet -- eating onions and a number of spices may be related to the change from odorless sweat. There is a paricular metabolic disorder called the fish odor syndrome which is actually an abnormality of the metabolism of trimethyl aminuria. It was best summarized many years ago by Drs. Dorinda and Walter Shelley in the Journal of the American Medical Association (January 13, 1984 Volume 251, No. 2). You might be interested in reading that to further your understanding of the many causes of odor in the sweat.

If your axillary odor is not due to a metabolic process or to dietary intake the next most common cause would be bacterial decomposition of the epocrine sweat in your arm pit. If this part of the axillary secretion is metabolized by bacteria such as pseudomonos or E. Coli it will produce an odor that is very unpleasant. You can improve that problem with frequent washing with NON-DEODORANT SOAPS and applying small amounts of Polysporin Ointment in the dome of your arm pit once or twice a day after the washing.

I would urge you to seek the consultation of a competent dermatologist so that the many factors that are involved may be clearly defined in your case and proper treatment instituted.

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Response by:

Charles L Heaton, MD
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati