4 Reasons Why Your Sneeze Smells and What It Means For Your Health

4 Reasons Why Your Sneeze Smells and What It Means For Your Health
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A sneeze or sternutation usually occurs from outside irritants like pollen, dirt, smoke, and dust entering the nostrils and tickling the delicate lining.

With incredible force, air and mucus are thrust from the nose, releasing thousands of microbes and spreading flu-like illnesses.

This is a normal daily occurrence and in most instances is harmless. But if your sneezes proceed with a funny smell it may be indicative of a serious health condition worth investigating.

So, what does the smell of your sneeze mean for your health?

#1 Smells Sweet

Why does my sneeze smell

This smell could indicate complications from diabetes.

While it’s most likely due to the plethora of bacteria living in the ears and sinuses, a sweet-smelling sneeze could be the smell of ketones in the bloodstream, meaning you could have diabetic ketoacidosis.

This is a condition where the body produces high levels of blood acids (ketones) due to a lack of insulin. In otherwise healthy people, insulin helps glucose (sugar) enter cells but when the body cannot make insulin, it begins to break down fat as fuel. This process produces a buildup of acids in the bloodstream called ketones, which in time, it may lead to diabetic ketoacidosis if left untreated.

Some warning signs of diabetic ketoacidosis are:

  • vomiting;
  • nausea;
  • frequent urination;
  • excessive thirst;
  • fruity-smelling breath.

Moreover, sneezes that smell sweet are also be associated with an underlying dietary or medical issue. Visit your doctor or healthcare provider for more information if you’re exhibiting sweet-smelling sneezes.

#2 Smells Foul

This could indicate a sinus infection, which is the most common cause of smelly sneezes.

A sinus infection or sinusitis is a condition where the cavities around your nasal passages become inflamed due to stagnant mucus in the nose. During a sinus infection, mucus becomes stagnant in the nose, filling with foul-smelling bacteria and giving your sneezes a foul odor and when you sneeze this mucus is expelled from the nose.

Acute sinus infections can be triggered by allergies or a cold and usually resolve on their own but chronic sinus infections can last for weeks. Symptoms include runny nose, nasal congestion, and headaches.

If you suspect that you have a sinus infection, visit your primary care doctor for antibiotics to clear up the infection.

#3 Smells Sour

This could indicate bad breath or gum disease.

While bad breath can be resolved with brushing, flossing, and mouthwash, you may still exhibit a sour smell when you sneeze due to gum disease.

Gum disease or periodontitis is a serious infection of the gums caused by poor brushing and flossing habits which allow plaque, a sticky film of bacteria, to harden around the teeth. If periodontitis becomes advanced, it can lead to bleeding gums, painful chewing, and even tooth loss.

To catch gum disease early and keep your mouth healthy, make sure to:

  • Brush your teeth twice daily with fluoride toothpaste
  • Floss regularly to remove plaque
  • Schedule a visit with your dentist twice a year for a professional cleaning and dental exam

#4 Smells Like Ammonia

This could indicate diabetes or liver and kidney disease.


A chronic condition where your blood glucose (sugar) — your main source of energy — is too high. The hormone insulin helps glucose from food get into your cells but when your body doesn’t make enough or stops completely glucose stays in your blood unable to reach your cells and starts to build up.

Moreover, diabetes has no cure but there are steps you can take to manage your symptoms and stay healthy. Talk to your doctor about doing so.

Liver Disease

The liver is your body’s second-largest organ, sitting just under your ribcage, and about the size of a football. A healthy liver separates nutrients and waste and produces bile to carry out toxins from your body to aid digestion.

However, whether from excessive alcohol consumption, infections, inheritance, or obesity, the liver can become damaged. Symptoms of liver disease may include abdominal pain, fatigue, swelling in the arms and legs, and bruising.

Kidney Disease

The kidneys are two bean-shaped organs sitting below your ribs and behind your stomach working to filter water and waste out of your blood to make urine. Those who have diabetes or high blood pressure are at an increased risk of developing kidney disease.

Moreover, your sneeze could smell like ammonia due to several other kidney issues like kidney cysts, kidney stones, kidney infections, and acute kidney injury.

Bottom Line

From sweet and sour to foul and ammonia-like, there are several reasons why the smell of your sneeze is unusual and none should be ignored — it could be indicative of a serious and potentially life-threatening health condition. Speak to your healthcare provider if the smell of your sneezes has suddenly changed.