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Why Does My Child Have Body Odor?

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.


Body Odor in Young 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.

  • Premature adrenarche is when a child’s body believes it is time to start puberty, before what would be considered a normal time. This is often visible in rapid changes in height or weight, and possibly the development of axillary hair, pubic hair or breast development. This condition can affect the child’s growing bones and can cause a child to stop growing before they normally would. Each of these changes is due to the fact that the child’s body is producing hormones which cause the child to start puberty early. When this type of early adrenarche occurs, it is likely that your child will be referred to an endocrinologist for further evaluation and possible treatment. As with everything in health management, there are risks and benefits which must be carefully weighed in order to protect the child’s best interests.


  • Phenylketonuria (PKU) is a rare inherited metabolic disorder where the body cannot break down an amino acid found in food called phenylalanine. Currently, all 50 states require that all newborns are screened for PKU at birth. This is the heel stick blood test that is done after the baby is born. If the screening test is positive for PKU, then the baby has an additional test to make the diagnosis. If this test is positive, then treatment is started with a special diet low in phenylalanine which prevents the major problems associated with the disease. If PKU is untreated, which is extremely rare given the required screening, the child may have a strong body odor in addition to major physical and mental health problems, due to a build up of phenylalanine in the body.

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.


Consult Your Health Care Provider

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.


For more information:

Go to the Children’s Health health topic.