Most healthy adults produce about 1.7 liters (7 cups) of urine every day.
Since about 95% of urine is water, the fresh pee shouldn’t have a bad smell.
But, when the pee smells like ammonia, your body could be low on fluids.
You could be dealing with urinary tract infections, bladder or kidney stones, or another health issue.
Here, you can learn more about what causes urine to smell like ammonia, what to do with the ammonia-smelling urine, and when to contact a specialist.
Why does urine smell?
Urine contains water and waste products, which can carry a slight odor. If the pee has fewer waste products and more water, then there is little to no urine odor. But, with more waste and less water, the urine develops a stronger smell.
So, why does my urine smell like ammonia? A powerful urine odor due to the production of ammonia is often a tell-tale sign of a urinary tract infection. Other conditions like bladder stones can cause waste products to build up in the pee, which is why it smells like ammonia.
Other than the strong smell of ammonia in urine, people can also have sweet or fruit-smelling urine. This could be a sign of unmanaged diabetes. Some metabolic conditions and liver disease can cause a musty-smelling pee.
Other health issues that can change the way the urine smells include:
- Bladder infection (urine that smells like ammonia)
- Bladder fistula (pee that smells like stool)
- High blood sugar or excess glucose (sweet urine smell)
- Liver failure (sweet and musty odor)
- Phenylketonuria (mousy or musty odor)
- Hypermethioninemia (fishy odor)
- Sexually transmitted infections (strong or foul odor)
Below, you can find a detailed review of why there is ammonia-smelling urine and what causes strong-smelling urine in adults.
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Causes of ammonia-smelling urine
When there is a greater concentration of waste products compared to fluid, the urine is more likely to develop an ammonia smell. Ammonia-smelling urine is relatively common and often harmless.
But, the smelly urine could also indicate a health issue. Here is a list of some of the most typical causes of smelly urine.
According to reports from research institutions, asparagus is notorious for the ammonia scent in urine.
An asparagus-heavy meal is packed with vitamin B6, which increases the acidic properties of the pee. This causes foul-smelling urine.
Coffee drinkers can also develop a strong urine smell. As can those who eat a lot of garlic, onions, fish, and protein-rich foods.
When the diet triggers a strong urine smell, eliminating the food reduces the smell.
Low hydration levels
When the body lacks fluid, the kidneys start holding onto the water and releasing more waste products. So, the urine becomes heavily concentrated. That’s why you can feel a strong urine smell of ammonia.
If you have a dark urine color and pass small amounts of urine, you could be dehydrated. Drinking about 8 glasses of water daily can help manage the ammonia odor from dehydration.
Some supplements, vitamins, and medicines can change the way the urine smells. B vitamins, like choline and thiamine, can affect the overall chemical balance in the pee, which can change the way it smells.
Medicines for metabolic syndromes, infections, and rheumatoid arthritis can also change the smell of the stool and urine.
Urinary tract infection
The urine smells because of the bacteria that swim around in the urinary system. It could be affecting the bladder, kidneys, or urethra.
Many UTIs resolve without treatment. But, some patients might require treatment to relieve the symptoms.
Many female patients with bacterial vaginosis notice a fishy smell from their vagina. But, it is not uncommon to develop a more potent chemical smell, quite like ammonia.
Patients often use antibiotics, like gels, tablets, or creams, to treat the smell.
About 8% of pregnant women develop UTIs. UTIs can cause a strong ammonia smell in urine.
Untreated UTIs can cause serious pregnancy complications, such as low birth weight, preterm labor, and sepsis.
But other factors, like a change in diet and lifestyle, can cause odorous urine. It’s important to talk to a specialist if there is a powerful ammonia-like smell in your urine while you are pregnant.
A bladder stone can make urine smell like ammonia. Anyone can develop bladder stones. But, men older than 50 are more likely to have them.
Most patients are advised to focus on drinking water to flush out the smaller stones.
If you have kidney stones, the urine smells strongly of ammonia. When the stones try to leave the system, they pass through the urinary tract. This increases the odds of UTIs, which could eventually cause an ammonia smell.
Drinking lots of water might help dilute the urine and remove the small stones.
Liver disease and liver infections can lead to increased ammonia in urine. When the liver is not working properly, the ammonia levels in the urine and blood go up, which causes a potent ammonia-smell-like odor in your pee.
You can manage some liver complications with lifestyle changes, weight reduction, and medications.
Should you see a doctor if your urine smells like ammonia?
If your pee occasionally smells like ammonia, then there is nothing to worry about. Drinking water can help dilute the pee and flush out any waste.
But, if the symptoms of foul-smelling urine are followed by pain, discomfort, or fever, then talk to your healthcare provider.
The unusual smell can be a sign of an underlying condition or disease. Your doctor might suggest you give a urine sample to figure out what’s causing the problem.
How do I stop urine from smelling like ammonia? The treatment will vary based on what’s causing the smell. The tips below can help decrease the ammonia smell.
- Drink enough water to support normal urinary and kidney function.
- Don’t eat too many foods that make the pee smell, like asparagus.
- Consider using different supplements, especially if you are taking choline or thiamine.
- Keep your chronic health issues in check.
- Focus on eating healthier foods with enough vitamins and nutrients.
- Try drinking cranberry juice. It can increase the acidity of urine and decrease odor.
- Go to the bathroom when you have the urge to urinate.
If the urine smell happens because of an underlying health problem, the doctor might suggest you use antibiotic medication.
But, if your pee still smells funny after using antibiotics, it could mean that some of the medicine you are taking is excreted in your urine.
Talk to your doctor to find the best form of treatment that works for you.
Frequently Asked Questions
What does it mean when your urine smells like ammonia?
Urine with the smell of ammonia often has a high concentration of waste products. Many conditions can make the waste products build up.
These can include urinary tract infections, dehydration, bladder or kidney stone, and liver disease. But, it could also be caused by the foods you eat, like an asparagus-heavy meal.
What infections cause ammonia smell?
If the pee smells like ammonia, this could be an indicator of a UTI (urinary tract infection). The smell suggests that there is a bacteria in the urinary system that can affect the bladder, kidneys, or urethra.
Can smelly urine be serious?
Usually, the urine odor is nothing serious. But, if there is a smell more often than usual, and you feel burning sensations or pain when peeing, then talk to a specialist.
Does cotton underwear help with urine odor?
Loose cotton underwear keeps the area dry, especially around the urethra. While cotton can’t treat the odor, it won’t trap moisture to help bacteria grow.
Does ovulation change the way the pee smells?
During ovulation, the hormone estrogen and progesterone are in charge of stimulating egg release.
While ovulation itself won’t make your pee smell like ammonia, the hormones can heighten your sense of smell. So, you become more aware of how your pee smells.
Ammonia-smelling urine is often harmless and short-lived, especially if it is caused by dehydration and poor food choices. But, it could also indicate a disease or health problem.
If the smell doesn’t go away on its own, you should talk to a specialist to find exactly what’s causing it.