Ammonia Breath

Of all the various types of bad breath, ammonia breath can be one of the most unpleasant to experience. Individuals unlucky enough to suffer from such an affliction often liken their breath to a “fishy” smell or alternatively rather similar to that of urine.

This is far from surprising when you understand the root causes of ammonia breath…

What Causes Ammonia Breath?

As the body breaks down amino acids it produces a toxin known as “urea”. This urea is typically filtered from the blood by the kidneys, and then expelled in the urine.

However, in cases where this filtration process is not functioning correctly urea can be expelled on the breath. When it mixes with saliva in the mouth urea is turned into ammonia. This produces what is scientifically known as “uremic fetor” – or “ammonia breath” (1). This may, on occasion, be accompanied by a bitter or metallic taste in the mouth.

While scientists have found that ammonia on the breath tends to naturally increase with age, it can also be a sign of rather more serious underlying conditions.

As might be imagined, one of the most common causes of ammonia breath is therefore decreased kidney function. Due to the potential seriousness of this condition it is therefore advised that anyone suffering from ammonia breath should see their doctor to rule out kidney-related issues.

Fortunately, ammonia breath isn’t only caused by kidney problems, and may instead be a result of other conditions related to this part of the body. Here are some of the more common alternatives…

Low Blood Pressure

When the blood pressure is low, blood flows through the kidneys as a slower rate. In doing so, the toxins can build after faster than they are filtered out. The end result can manifest itself in the form of higher-than-normal urea levels in the blood and an ammonia-like smell on the breath.

Dehydration

Individuals suffering from dehydration – such as after long bouts of exercise in hot weather – may also suffer similar side effects. In dehydrated individuals the kidneys may not be as efficient at filtering out urea, or the blood can thicken slightly, increasing the relative proportion of urea in the blood.

Urinary Infections

The urea that has been filtered out may not be carried away in the urine if infections are present. Urinary infections can result in swelling, resulting in a decline in urinary flow.

Urinary Obstructions

Lastly, anything which obstructs the free flow of urine – from something relatively harmless like kidney stones to something more serious like a tumour – can have a similar effect to urinary infections.

How to Get Rid of Ammonia Breath

As an ammonia-like smell on the breath can be a sign of serious health complications the first step should always be to consult a medical professional.

Ask them to check your kidney function and blood pressure, as well as running blood tests and checking for any obstructions in the urinary tract.


References:

  • (1) Uremic fetor. Wikipedia. Available at: www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uremia
  • (2) Pitts, G et al. 1983. Mechanism of action of an antiseptic, anti-odor mouthwash. Journal of Dental Research 62(6), pp 738 – 742. Available at: jdr.sagepub.com