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February 4, 1974

Garlic Breath Odor

Author Affiliations

Prudential Center Boston

JAMA. 1974;227(5):559-560. doi:10.1001/jama.1974.03230180057031

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To the Editor.—  A query in The Journal regarding garlic-like breath odor in a laboratory technician was answered by your consultant with reference to certain exogenous and endogenous causes, and quite correctly, as far as he went (226:1127, 1973). Aside from garlic itself, however, the commonest source of garlic odor in expired air is exposure to selenium and tellurium in their various forms. A laboratory technician might well have exposure to such compounds, and also possibly in lipstick, if the technician is a woman. Inhalation or cutaneous absorption are common portals of entry. Habitual exposure to extremely small concentrations can cause nausea, vomiting (sudden and explosive), pharyngitis, lethargy, and the telltale garlic breath. Contact dermatitis is not uncommon. Acute intoxications also produce decerebrate central nervous system phenomena with convulsions. Death is a distinct possibility.Certain shampoos obtainable without prescription contain selenium salts, which are effective antiseborrheics. Garlic breath is frequently