Not every disease or illness starts off showing physical symptoms like vomiting, headache, etc; others actually start by emitting certain smells, and only people who are sensitive enough to tell their nature can get proper care immediately.

Of course, you know that it isn’t every illness that is terminal per se; oftentimes, late detection can lead a disease to that point. Here are some very common illnesses that come with smell as an early warning sign.


Bacterial infections tend to emit different smells in humans. Pseudomonas, for example, produces a characteristic blue-green color and is a common infection in those with diabetes, cystic fibrosis, burn patients, or drug users.

This can be an extremely dangerous infection if it is not treated quickly, and it frequently wreaks havoc in hospital environments. It is considered an opportunistic bacterium, meaning that most of its infections occur after preexisting diseases or conditions. You may have had a run-in with Pseudomonas if you have ever suffered from hot tub folliculitis. There are ways to identify Pseudomonas in a laboratory, but one interesting characteristic that it possesses is that it actually produces an identifiable grape-like odour.

‘Coli’, a common cause of food poisoning, has been described as having a floral odor. Eikenella corrodens, the bacteria that commonly causes infection following a human bite, smells like bleach. Streptococcus anginosus, a bacteria that can cause abscesses, has a sweet caramel or butterscotch odor.


Diabetic ketoacidosis, a high concentration of ketone bodies, is usually accompanied by insulin deficiency, hyperglycemia, and dehydration.

Particularly in type 1 diabetics, the lack of insulin in the bloodstream prevents glucose absorption, thereby inhibiting the production of oxaloacetate through reduced levels of pyruvate, and can cause unchecked ketone body production (through fatty acid metabolism), potentially leading to dangerous glucose and ketone levels in the blood.

Hyperglycemia results in glucose overloading the kidneys and spilling into the urine (transport maximum for glucose is exceeded). Dehydration results following the osmotic movement of water into urine (Osmotic diuresis), exacerbating the acidosis.

Ketoacidosis can be smelled on a person’s breath. This is due to acetone, a direct by-product of the spontaneous decomposition of acetoacetic acid. It is often described as smelling like fruit or nail polish remover.


Typhoid fever is a bacterial infection caused by Salmonella Typhi. Its symptoms may vary from from very mild to severe. These symptoms include a gradual onset of high fever, weakness, abdominal pain, constipation, and a rose-colored skin rash.

Typhoid is not an extremely common disease in the developed world, but is still common in areas with poor sanitation and hygiene.

A medical journal article published in 1976 brought attention to the fact that patients with typhoid fever emit a smell that is extremely similar to freshly baked bread. Now, while ‘smelling like a bakery’ may sound pretty cool, being afflicted with typhoid is actually nothing like that.


Ever had a pee that smells like Marple syrup? You might just be suffering from the disease! Later onset can lead to symptoms ranging from weight loss and diarrhea to uninhibited behavior and hallucinations.

The sweet-smelling urine can actually warn of an attack of these symptoms. Prevention is by controlling your intake of amino acids. There is currently no cure for the disease, but steps can be taken to control the severity of symptoms.


Schizophrenics have difficulty identifying odours, and problems with the sense of smell seem to be linked with the disease. Among high-risk patients, a recent study found that problems with olfaction predicted who was most likely to develop the disorder. The findings suggest that testing a patient’s sense of smell could become a useful method to predict who is most likely to develop the psychiatric disorder. In the 1960s, nurses began commenting on an odd odour emanating from the back of mental hospitals. This prompted researchers to begin searching for the cause of this smell. It wasn’t long until Smith and Sines thought that they had stumbled upon the cause of the scent: schizophrenia. The smell was described as a “skunk-like” odour that remained in patients, especially those with catatonia, despite any amount of bathing.

These may seem scary, but the idea isn’t to scare you, but at least, motivate you to get checked on if you ever experience any of those.


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