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A bad smell on sneezing or blowing your nose is a common complaint. There are a few different conditions that can cause (in isolation or combination) such a symptom. The most common ones are the following

A Sinus Infection

This is the first thing that comes to mind whenever a complaint of a foul smelling sneeze is made. Our sinuses are lined with a mucus-producing membrane that is extremely sensitive to infection and allergies. This membrane responds to any perceived foreign body by producing a larger amount of mucus as a defense mechanism of the body. In most cases, this membrane self-regulates its actions and goes back to normal mucus production once the infection has been warded off. However, in some cases it continues to over-produce mucus, causing trouble to the body.

There are many micro-organisms that thrive in a moist environment — the type of environment that also has less amount of oxygen passing through it. Such organisms can cause a secondary infection in the sinuses giving rise to pain, swelling, redness and a foul smell.

Every time a patient sneezes or coughs, this infected mucus is released into the oral cavity or surrounding environment resulting in a foul smell. The treatment for chronic sinusitis involves the use of nasal decongestants, anti-allergic medication, and antibiotics to fight any infection that may be present as the first line of treatment. If, however, the symptoms do not subside even after this then more invasive procedures might need to be looked at. An exploratory endoscopy to help clear the sinuses may be done, removal of any membrane overgrowths (polyps) may be required and in rare cases surgery to expand the opening of the sinus to allow for better drainage may also need to be done.


The cause of the foul smell when sneezing may also be due to halitosis or bad breath. The oral cavity is home to a number of micro-organisms that produce volatile sulfur-like compounds which have have been implicated as the chief reason for bad breath. Normally, these organisms are very small in number,  but under conditions that are favorable, such as poor oral hygiene, niches where oxygen is less and periodontal disease, they increase in  number to cause bad breath.

The treatment for halitosis includes a thorough oral checkup, followed by scaling and root planning, treatment of any decayed or dead teeth in the mouth, gum treatment if necessary and the use of anti bacterial mouthwashes to maintain the balance of normal population of oral micro organisms in the mouth.

Acid Reflux

A poorly functioning or damaged esophageal sphincter is unable to stop the contents of the stomach from rising back up the tube and into the mouth. These contents include stomach acids that can damage the lining of the esophagus and cause serious damage. One of the symptoms associated with this condition is the development of foul breath and odor.

Other symptoms that will be hard to miss include a burning sensation in the stomach, pain and even nausea.

A visit to the doctor to identify the exact problem and begin treatment is advisable.

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