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Thomas P. Connelly, D.D.S.

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The Different Kinds of Bad Breath, Part 1: Lung Breath

Posted: 03/28/2012 5:04 pm

I'm going to do a series of posts regarding the different types of bad breath (or halitosis). I've spoken before about bad breath -- extensively, in fact -- but I've never really broken it down quite this way before.

I want to do this because bad breath is pretty misunderstood by people. Just like "general body odor," bad breath can come from a myriad of different places and have countless causes. But people tend to think of bad breath differently -- they think it's all in the mouth, and that some gum will solve the problem. That just isn't true; bad breath can indeed come from the mouth, but it also comes from the tonsils, the lungs, the stomach, etc. And gum doesn't do such a good job in hiding these.

Here are the different types of bad breath I'll be discussing:

  • Lung breath (today's topic)
  • Sinus breath
  • Stomach breath
  • Tonsil and other mouth breath
  • Exhaustion breath (this is my own term -- I made it up -- we'll discuss this in the future)

Okay, let's start today with the lungs. Yes, the lungs. I realize this isn't usually what people expect when they think of bad breath, but the lungs can definitely play a part in bad breath. Not a HUGE part, mind you (moist bad breath is oral in nature, after all), but the lungs do play a role for some people. And the frustrating part is bad breath from the lungs doesn't go away when you brush your teeth, etc., making the lungs something you should definitely be aware of if you indeed suffer from bad breath.

In most cases, bad breath from the lungs has one of two causes: either some kind of disease or infection, or something you ate or drank that then enters the bloodstream and releases odors when said blood reaches the lungs. Let's look at the disease angle first.

Obviously, a lung disease or disorder can (and usually will) result in bad breath. It's now widely known that lung cancer, for example, will usually cause a distinct breath odor (so much so that breath is now being used in early detection). Cystic fibrosis and asthma are two other lung disorders that have a distinct odor that is associated with them (both of them smell somewhat acidic).

But it's not just "lung" diseases. Diseases that affect the blood can also affect one's breath, because when we exhale, we're actually removing carbon dioxide carried to our lungs by the blood. So diabetes can carry a distinct "sweet and fruity" bad breath smell (isn't it funny how "bad" breath is described as "sweet and fruity"?). And again, the breath is so markedly distinct that it can be a clue in diagnosing such (so maybe all bad breath isn't so bad). Same with kidney or liver disorders -- they can send unwanted smells to the blood to be released via the lungs.

The downside to a lot of these is there really is no direct cure for the bad breath part. Getting the disease diagnosed and under control may be one's only real defense against the bad breath they may cause. But until that happens, you can use gum, sprays, or mints to somewhat mask the breath, but they probably are not as effective as one would like. I wish I had better news to report here, but it is what it is.

Okat, let's move on to "lung breath" that CAN be controlled. And that includes bad breath that comes from smoking, drinking, and eating certain foods. Now, all three of these things are substances/activities that can cause bad breath in double (or even triple) doses -- from the mouth, from the stomach, and the lungs. But for today, we'll just concentrate on the lungs.

Smoking is the first one, and it should be pretty obvious; smoking will make your lungs smell. And you can brush your teeth all you want -- your lungs aren't getting cleaned by your toothbrush. When you hack up that gross, dark piece of phlegm, that's junk sitting in your lungs. And yes, it does smell -- how can it not? The solution here is simple: quit smoking. But you smokers already knew that. C'mon, just quit (really, who smokes anymore?).

Now that smokers have de-friended me here, let's move on to alcohol. Yes, alcohol breath usually comes from your lungs. Know why? The blood thing I mentioned above. Alcohol gets into your blood, and gets released when you exhale (think about it -- that's how a breathalyzer works). That's why brushing your teeth probably won't hide the fact that you've been drinking (so be warned if you are trying to do such on your lunch hour, etc.). Time is the only thing that will matter here. The solution is to not drink, or at least not drink when you don't want your breath to give you away.

Lastly, we come to foods. Certain "strong-smelling" foods like onions and garlic actually carry their smells through your digestive system and into your blood and, like the alcohol above, get released when you exhale. Again, the only real cure is to not eat these things, or wait them out.

As you can see, contrary to popular belief, bad breath that originates from the lungs may not be entirely your fault, and also may have no other cure than time. Again, a mint may help some, but waiting it out is the only sure cure.

Until next time, keep smiling.

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