01/08/2018 13:01 EST | Updated 01/08/2018 13:01 EST

Smelly Belly Button: What To Do If You Notice Odour Or Discharge

It could mean you just need a good shower, or it's something more serious.

Most of us go about our days without giving our belly buttons a second thought.

We might see them when we change out of our clothes, or take a shower, but for the most part, they're covered up. And because they don't serve any important function (after we're out of the womb), they're easy to forget.

That is, until they start smelling. Or secreting discharge. And when that happens, you know something funky is going on.

For the most part, there's no need to be concerned if you have a smelly belly button. According to Healthline, our belly buttons smell from time to time if we're not keeping up with our hygiene.

"Dirt, bacteria, and other germs can collect in this hollow area... the little indentation is likely to collect dirt and debris if you don't keep it clean," the site notes.

And according to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), belly buttons contain more than 67 kinds of bacteria! However, sometimes belly button odour can be a sign of something more serious that needs medical attention, such as an infection or a cyst.

So, how can you tell whether you just need a shower or if you should go see your doctor?

Look for these symptoms

If your belly button is doing or causing any of the following, seek medical attention:

  • Discharge (white, yellow, or green)
  • Swelling or redness
  • Pain or itching
  • A lump in the area
  • Fever
  • A wound or bruise around the belly button

What are the causes?

There are several reasons why your belly button may smell, from poor hygiene or an infection, having an "innie," to having your belly button pierced.

If you have poor hygiene, fungi and germs can get trapped in the belly button, according to Healthline.

"These germs feast on oil, dead skin, dirt, sweat, and other debris that gets trapped in your belly button," notes the website. "Then they multiply. Bacteria and other germs create the foul smell, just as they make your armpits smell when you sweat. The deeper your belly button is, the more dirt and germs can build up inside it."

The result? A foul odour.

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Sometimes though, the smell is caused by an infection. "Belly buttons that are crusted, inflamed, or itchy may be infected," according to UPMC.

People who have undergone surgery to their abdomen are at a higher risk of infection, as are people who have had their belly button pierced.

Although rare, people can develop masses inside their belly button, called omphaliths or umboliths, notes UPMC. These growths can lead to infection and inflammation of the skin.

Less common are cysts in the area, such as an epidermoid cyst, a pilar cyst and a sebaceous cyst. These can burst, releasing a discharge, or they can get infected, according to Healthline.

Other causes include diabetes, which can worsen the health of the skin and lead to a discharge resembling cottage cheese, and yeast infections, which can cause a foul odour that doesn't go away with regular cleaning, Healthrave notes.

How to treat it

If you're certain you don't have an infection or cyst, all you need is some prevention via good ol' fashioned soap and water. (See below for more details.) However if you have an infection, more maintenance is required.

First, talk to your doctor for their advice. Other than that, Healthline recommends keeping your belly button clean and dry and avoid wearing tight clothes. They also recommend limiting the sugar in your diet, as high blood glucose levels increases the risk of infection.

If it's a piercing that's caused the infection, remove it, and then treat your belly button with a cotton ball soaked in a mixture of antimicrobial hand soap and warm water.

When it comes to cysts, see your dermatologist, as they will be able to treat a cyst with medication or by removing it.

How to prevent it

The easiest way to prevent a smelly belly button is by cleaning it every day via a shower and some soap and water. Make sure to gently scrub the inside of the belly button with a washcloth to get all the dirt out and when you're done, pat it dry.

However, if you don't want to get in the tub, you can wash your belly button without getting wet. recommends washing it with warm water and salt. "Add about 1 tbsp. of salt in a small bowl of warm water. Use your fingertip to gently massage the salt water into your navel or dab it with a soft washcloth," explains the site. They then say to rinse the area and dry it with a clean towel.

"Shower after you exercise or sweat heavily to prevent moisture from accumulating in your belly button," the site notes.

But remember, avoid using lotion or cream on or around your belly button. According to UPMC, "the extra moisture can contribute to bacterial or fungal growth."

The final word

If you don't want your belly button to smell, it's pretty simple: shower and clean it regularly.

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