Sweaty feet / Smelly feet / Hyperhidrosis
This article will discuss normal sweating creating odour and excessive sweating of the hands and feet.
Perspiration has a purpose in humans. Its evaporation allows the skin to cool and the body to get rid of excess heat. Unfortunately, wearing shoes all day stops this evaporation from occurring and allows the sweat to stay close to the skin. This can cause various problems.
Sweat is really nutritious stuff for bacteria to feed on. If the sweat stays in place long enough on your skin, socks or in the linings of your shoes, quite a colony can grow. The byproduct of bacteria and fungi eating your sweat is the offensive odour that your housemates hate!
Socks & Sweaty feet
Throw out all your socks made from synthetic material – they are not your friends. Replace them with socks that are 60–70% wool combined with 40-30% synthetic fibre. If you want to aim for the best socks, podiatrists sell socks made from bamboo fibre, which draw sweat away very effectively. You can even get some with silver or copper woven into the material which will inhibit the growth of micro-organisms on the socks and on your skin. They are expensive but effective and can be worth the money, particularly if a foot infection is a danger to you, for example, if you are a diabetic.
Wear clean socks every day. Wash socks on the hottest cycle using Milton’s (or similar) nappy wash and dry them in the sun.
Change your socks in the middle of the work day if you sweat enough to soak through the first pair.
Don’t skip wearing socks because the sweat will be soaked up by your shoes. Shoes are much harder to clean than socks.
Shoes & Sweaty feet
The most important thing with footwear is to stop the sweat from soaking into the material of the shoes where it will become rancid. Buy a few pairs of washable insoles for your shoes, and wash them every day until the problem improves and then weekly after that.
Shoe liners such as odour-eaters are cheap enough to throw away weekly and will go a long way to sorting out shoe odour if changed regularly.
You can swab the inside of your shoes with alcohol such as mentholated spirits.
Try to avoid wearing the same shoes two days in a row allow them to dry out well.
Check the soles of your feet for hard, dead skin which becomes waterlogged when sweaty. This makes an ideal environment for bacteria to thrive in. Remove it with a pumice stone or a trip to the podiatrist.
Wash and soap your feet well at least once per day. Do it twice daily at first if you have significantly smelly, sweaty feet. An antibacterial skin preparation can help. Check with the chemist for a product intended for acne such as pHisohex or other facial cleansers.
As an alternative, you could soak your feet daily in weak black tea, which contains tannic acid. It is thought to make the sweat glands ‘pucker up’. Boil two tea bags in half a litre of water for a quarter hour. Add this to 2 litres of cool tap water and soak your feet for 20–30 minutes. Dry thoroughly and do not put on shoes soon after. Let your feet air to get really dry.
Always let your feet air dry well after a shower. Dry well with a towel and try to wait at least 30 minutes before using shoes or socks.
Check in between the toes for white, dead looking skin, rashes or generally smelliness. Fungal infections love places that are warm, damp and dark. These can be abundant if you have particularly sweaty feet. Use an anti-fungal preparation from the chemist that is based in either alcohol or oil as it will disperse the wetness more efficiently. Keep it up until the symptoms are completely gone and ten days more. If this is not enough to solve the problem, see a podiatrist.
Use a strong antiperspirant (which is not the same as a deodorant) which contains 20% aluminium chloride. This will be a man strength, sport antiperspirant. Give the feet a good spray prior to putting on shoes and allow a couple of minutes for it to dry. This will reduce the amount of sweat that you produce as the aluminium chloride causes the sweat glands to pucker closed.
- Drugs. Some medications have been known to cause unusual foot odours. Try everything above first, then consult your podiatrist or GP if there is no improvement. Don’t stop any prescribed mediation without talking to your doctor.
- Teenagers. Yes, its not your imagination, the problem is worse in teenage boys because hormonal changes trigger excessive sweating. Personal hygiene may not be his priority at this age. This may change ‘naturally’ under the influence of a girlfriend!
- Hyperhidrosis. This is a condition where the feet (and usually the hands too) literally run with sweat. You will find you can’t wear thongs because you slide out of them. You can’t lean on shop counters because you leave a big puddle behind. This is a condition where the sympathetic nervous system becomes overactive. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the stuff you don’t have to think about like beating the heart, moving food through the gut and, of course, sweating.
- Pharmaceutical Interventions for hyperhidrosis. Include anticholinergic drugs which interfere with the action of the sympathetic nerves. They can be effective but the side effects may be worse than the problem and include: dry mouth, blurred of vision, constipation and sleepiness. Bromide is also sometimes used but has other side effects related to virility.
Surgery can be performed to ablate (burn off) the sympathetic nerve and is called a sympathetectomy. It has been implicated in impairment of other autonomic functions and needs good consideration. You would need to be referred by your doctor to a specialist neurologist.