Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Have you (or has someone close to you) ever had bad breath and struggled to find a cause because you knew it was not due to poor oral hygiene? You might have tried everything from brushing to flossing to rinsing, but to no avail.

Surprisingly, breath malodor has a variety of causes, including bad breath from lungs due to respiratory conditions. When your bad breath won’t blow over, the first step to alleviating it is to determine the cause of the problem.

1. Infections That Cause Bad Breath

When bad breath emanates from the lungs, sometimes the cause is a short-term infection. Some conditions like bronchitis, sinusitis and even pneumonia can cause foul breath. When parents notice bad breath in children, it may be because they are coming down with something. The only good aspect of foul breath caused by these respiratory conditions is that once a person recovers, the bad breath goes away, too.

2. Chronic Conditions That Cause Bad Breath

Sometimes, the cause of bad breath from lungs is a life-long affliction. Individuals with cystic fibrosis (CF) can experience bad breath as a symptom of the disease, according to the American Rhinologic Society. This condition causes thickened mucus in the lungs, and as a result many CF patients have recurrent airway infections and post-nasal drip. This disease is inherited and has no cure, so the thickened mucus and difficulty breathing may always be a concern.

Asthma is another respiratory condition that can cause bad breath, explains Delta Dental. People with asthma often breathe through their mouths, which dries out oral tissues. Many of the bacteria that cause bad breath flourish in a dry mouth. Additionally, medicated inhalers can also have a side effect of dry mouth, further compounding the problem.

Lung cancer is another condition that has a distinctive odor and can be even identified by the specific combination of gases in a person’s breath, MIT News reports. A group of students from MIT and Harvard developed a smartphone-connected sensor that detects these compounds and provides a safe and inexpensive way to detect the disease.

How to Resolve Bad Breath From Lungs

When you have a sinus infection, allergies or post-nasal drip, the bacteria in your mouth can convert the proteins found in mucus to a substance called skatole, which can make your breath smell like mothballs. Rinsing your sinuses with warm water will help clear the mucus from the area. Taking allergy medication or an antibiotic, if prescribed by your physician, may help alleviate any respiratory conditions as soon as possible.

For CF patients, treatment may include nasal irrigation or taking antibiotics. In addition, nasal steroids may be recommended by a physician. Patients with asthma should focus on staying well hydrated to combat the effects of dry mouth.

When to Address Concerns with Your Dentist

Sometimes people are uncomfortable with bringing up the issue of bad breath during their dental visit, but dental professionals are accustomed to hearing about this concern (and maybe smelling it). If you are brushing and flossing properly at home and getting regular six-month cleanings and are still having breath problems, seek professional medical advice. Your dentist will be able to tell if dental hygiene changes can help with breath malodor or if you should talk with your physician.