Underarm odor is often a telltale sign that your child is about to go through puberty, the period of life when he develops from a child into an adult. Since underarm odor, also called body odor, often smells pretty unpleasant, it can be embarrassing for your child, especially if he has no idea what’s going on.
Cause of Odor
Everyone has approcine glands in their armpits that release sweat. Typically these glands are activated by hormones when a child begins to go through puberty. The hormones cause sweat to be released through hair follicles onto the skin. Once on the skin, the sweat mixes with bacteria, which starts to break it down. Sweat itself doesn’t have an odor. The smell comes from the bacteria as it works through a child’s sweat.
When to Expect It
Children commonly go through puberty between the ages of 8 and 12 for girls and between the ages of 9 and 14 for boys, according to the Mayo Clinic. Underarm odor usually appears well before other signs of puberty, such as the beginning of menstruation for girls or wet dreams for boys. Some children may experience precocious puberty, during which they start the process before the age of 8 or 9, though this is very rare.
Teaching Good Hygiene
Good hygiene is key to keeping underarm odor under control for children. Teach your child to shower or bathe daily and after he plays a sport or does any physical activity that makes him sweat. Give him a nice-smelling soap or body wash to use and stress the importance of cleaning the armpits. He may be more likely to shower if you let him pick out his own soap or body wash. Remind children that clothes collect sweat and that it’s a good idea to wash any dirty clothing, especially undershirts, underwear and socks, before wearing them again.
Using Deodorant Vs. Antiperspirant
Deodorant applied to the underarms will mask the odor but not stop the sweat, while an antiperspirant will clog pores in an attempt to keep your child from sweating. Deodorants usually contain some sort of ingredient designed to kill the bacteria as well as a fragrance to provide a nice scent. Some parents may be concerned about their children using antiperspirants, since some sweat is healthy and needed to regulate body temperature. Antiperspirants can also cause irritation, as can some deodorants. No matter which you decide to give your child, make sure she uses it as directed.
Cause for Concern
Although most of the time, odor is just a part of growing up and is nothing to worry about, some conditions can make body odor or sweating worse. Some children may have hyperhidrosis, a condition that makes them sweat excessively. The excess sweat can be embarrassing in and of itself but can be even worse if the excess sweat leads to excess odor. If your child has phenylketonuria, an inability to break down phenylalanine, an amino acid, he may have a strong body odor if the condition isn’t under control.