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A sneeze is actually a reflex of the body that serves to expel unwanted foreign objects or irritants from the respiratory passage. In normal conditions, our sneezes do not have an offending smell to them, or even any smell whatsoever. If however it is noticed that the sneezes are accompanied by a foul odor then there has to be an underlying cause for it.

This predicament is far from life-threatening, however since it is not possible to predict or control where and when a sneezing bout might hit you, this has the potential to cause social embarrassment.

Possible causes for badly smelling sneezes include these.


This is by far and away the most likely cause for a sneeze that smells bad. Our sinuses are lined by a mucus producing epithelium. This function is protective in nature and helps the body keeps its surfaces lubricated, while at the same time able to physically entrap micro organisms and other foreign irritants.

Most people will never even notice this function of their body under normal circumstances. However, under situations of chronic infection or poor mucus clearing due to various causes, this mucus production can go into over drive and start clogging up the sinuses.

This situation starts becoming conducive to the growth of gram-negative organisms which thrive in moist conditions with less availability of oxygen.

One of the side effects of the growth of these organisms is the accumulation of toxins and release of hydrogen sulfide like products which are unpleasant to smell. Our sinuses are in anatomic communication with the ears, nose and throat and so this same micro organism's population also spreads and begins to thrive.

It is these by products and toxins that are expelled during a sneeze which makes it foul smelling.


Another cause of a bad smelling sneeze might have nothing to do with the sneeze itself. It might be halitosis (bad breath) that is responsible for the odor. There are a number of causes for bad breath ranging from poor oral hygiene to underlying systemic causes or a combination of local and systemic factors. If this is the cause then the patient would be experiencing bad breath all throughout the day as well and not only just while sneezing.

An oral examination as well as scaling procedure is recommended followed by the use of anti-bacterial mouthwashes and regular tongue cleaning to reduce the bacterial load.


Gum disease causes the formation of a number of difficult to reach niches in the oral cavity which act as a reservoir for gram negative bacteria. A lot of the organisms are involved in the production of odor causing by products and thus contribute to halitosis.

While it seems difficult to imagine that a small part of the periodontium can could be responsible for causing so much bad breath, the surface area around each tooth when added is almost the size of your clenched fist!

The treatment requires a visit to the ENT and the dentist to help diagnose the exact cause. Expect to be put on a course of antibiotics, anti allergic medication and long term nasal decongestants.

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