Smelly Feet – Keeps Your Friends Away
While bad breath, body odour, and smelly feet are related to different parts of your body, they share a common characteristic: they are “unpleasant”. Smelly feet, being another type of body odour (known as bromhidrosis), is not a true disease but a complication resulting from excessive sweating of the feet.
Sweat, Sweating, Excessive Sweating and Smelly Feet
Sweating is a mechanism for the body to cool itself down and occurs at the sweat glands which are present everywhere on the skin. Human feet are covered with lots of sweat glands which produce about half cup of sweat daily under normal conditions.
As the temperature rises due to hot weather, or when the leg is tired due to prolonged standing or physical activity, the sweating increases. Sweat glands on the foot soles also respond to stress, mainly emotional or mental, to produce more sweat. Sweating becomes a nuisance when it exceeds what is necessary for body temperature regulation (a condition known as hyperhidrosis).
Sweat itself is odourless but trapping sweat in covered footwear for prolonged hours creates a suitable environment for bacteria to grow. Bacteria will feed on the materials present in the sweat and also the dead skin cells to produce substances with unpleasant odour. The odour that is emitted ranges from thick cheesy, sour vinegar, to a pungent ammonia-like smell, depending on the bacteria.
To prevent smelly feet; the underlying condition of excessive sweating must be dealt with. For those who sweat excessively on the foot, the use of anti-perspirant containing aluminium salts may be recommended. While both anti-perspirant and deodorant may contain perfume, both act on the sweat differently. Anti-perspirants stop excessive sweating by blocking the sweat pores as opposed to deodorants, which mask the smell and may contain anti-bacterial that will prevent bacteria from growing and feeding on the sweat.
Foot hygiene is very important in smelly feet prevention. Regular bathing of at least once daily is important to reduce the amount of bacteria on the skin, especially at the feet. Wash your feet with warm water twice daily. After washing, the feet should be dried thoroughly with a cotton towel especially between the toes which could trap additional moisture for bacteria to thrive.
Try to go barefoot at home or wear the least covered footwear (e.g. slippers, flip-flops) whenever possible to allow for better foot ventilation. However, when in public places such as public showers in the gym or swimming pool, do wear footwear to prevent picking up fungus which could lead to athlete’s foot.
When covered footwear is worn, always wear socks. Before wearing socks and footwear, dust your feet with some talcum powder to absorb moisture. Choose cotton or wool socks if you are prone to sweaty and smelly feet as they absorb sweat better and provides sufficient ventilation. Change your socks regularly, as often as once or twice daily.
Always go for shoes made from natural materials (e.g. leather or canvas) which are more breathable. If you sweat a lot, do have an additional pair of shoes and rotate between them within two to three days to allow for complete drying of the other pair. While airing the shoes, you could use an anti-bacterial and fragrant shoe spray.
While smelly feet are not life-threatening, it does have significant impact on the person psychologically, socially, and occupationally.
Do not hesitate to consult your healthcare professionals if you have any doubts in managing the condition, especially when your feet still smell after following the steps above. If your feet produces odour for reasons other than due to excessive sweating, consult your physician promptly as other serious complications such as foot infection could be the cause.