The feet and hands contain more sweat glands than any other part of the body. Smelly feet are not only embarrassing, but can be physically uncomfortable as well.
Feet smell for two reasons: 1) shoe wear, and 2) sweating of the feet. The interaction between the perspiration and the bacteria that thrive in shoes and socks generates the odor. Therefore, any attempt to reduce foot odor has to address both sweating and footwear.
Smelly feet can also be caused by an inherited condition, called hyperhidrosis or excessive sweating. This primarily affects men. Stress, some medications, fluid intake, and hormonal changes also can increase the amount of perspiration our bodies produce.
In general, smelly feet can be controlled with a few preventive measures:
* Always wear socks with closed shoes that have perforations at the toebox.
* Colored socks have dyes that trap moisture.
* Avoid wearing nylon socks or plastic shoes. Instead, wear shoes made of leather, canvas, mesh, or other materials that let your feet breathe.
* Bathe feet daily in lukewarm water, using a mild soap. Dry thoroughly.
* Change socks and shoes at least once a day.
* Check for fungal infections between toes and on the bottoms of your feet.
* Don't wear the same pair of shoes two days in a row. If you frequently wear athletic shoes, alternate pairs so that the shoes can dry out. Give your shoes at least 24 hours to air out between wearings.
* Use a nonmedicated baby powder or foot powder. Applying antibacterial ointment also may help.
* Practice good foot hygiene to keep bacteria levels at a minimum.
* Wear thick, soft socks to help draw moisture away from the feet. Cotton and other absorbent materials are best.
Treating Foot Odor
Persistent foot odor can indicate a low-grade infection or a severe case of hereditary sweating. In these cases, a prescription ointment may be required to treat the problem.
Treating Excessive Sweating
A form of electrolysis, called iontophoresis, has been shown to reduce excessive sweating of the feet. However, it is more difficult to administer. In the worst cases of hyperhidrosis, a surgeon can cut the nerve that controls sweating. Recent advances in technology have made this surgery much safer, but may increase sweating in other areas of the body.