Having stinky feet can be an embarrassing and frustrating problem. The foul odor emanating from your shoes or bare feet can cause social anxiety and distress. But the good news is that you don’t have to suffer in silence – there are treatments available that can help eliminate foot odor. Here’s what you need to know about getting medical help for smelly feet.
What Causes Smelly Feet?
There are a few common culprits behind foot odor:
- Sweat – Feet contain a high concentration of sweat glands, producing moisture that breeds bacteria. This bacteria multiplies rapidly and feeds on dead skin cells, causing an unpleasant smell.
- Poor hygiene – Failing to properly wash and dry your feet creates an environment where odor-causing bacteria thrive. Wearing the same shoes day after day without washing or alternating pairs also contributes.
- Hyperhidrosis – A condition characterized by excessive sweating beyond what’s needed to regulate body temperature. This extra moisture enables odor-producing bacteria to proliferate.
- Fungal infections – Infections like athlete’s foot cause an overgrowth of fungus on the feet, leading to an unpleasant smell.
- Other foot conditions – Problems like bunions, corns, and cracked heels can make cleaning the feet properly difficult, allowing bacteria to accumulate.
- Genetics – Some people’s feet simply produce more sweat due to hereditary factors.
When to See a Doctor
Mild foot odor that occurs occasionally may be remedied with good hygiene practices at home. But if you’ve tried over-the-counter treatments and improved foot care without success, it’s a sign you need medical intervention. See a podiatrist or dermatologist if:
- The smell is very offensive and consistent, instead of occasional.
- It affects your daily life, causing embarrassment and social isolation.
- You have excessive sweating, redness, irritation, scaling or itching.
- Odor persists despite your best efforts with hygiene and cleanliness.
- You have additional symptoms like swollen feet, discharge or pain.
A medical professional can pinpoint the underlying cause and provide appropriate treatment options. Don’t hesitate to seek help – smelly feet should not be considered a permanent condition you have to live with.
What a Doctor Can Do
During your appointment, the doctor will examine your feet and ask questions about your symptoms. Be prepared to describe the smell, whether your feet sweat excessively, and any accompanying irritation or discomfort. Bring along your shoes and socks to demonstrate the problem.
Your doctor has several methods to diagnose and treat smelly feet:
- Prescribe oral or topical antibiotics to eliminate bacteria responsible for odor.
- Prescribe diluted sodium hypochlorite (bleach) solution foot soaks to kill bacteria.
- Prescribe antiperspirants containing aluminum chloride to control excessive sweating. These are applied nightly for a week or two until sweating is reduced.
- Remove hardened, dead skin with scalpels or abrasive pads to minimize bacterial growth.
- Treat fungal infections like athlete’s foot with prescription antifungal creams or oral medications.
- Provide guidance on proper hygiene practices: washing feet daily, using clean cotton socks, wearing moisture-wicking shoes, frequently changing shoes, using shoe deodorizers.
- Refer you to a mental health professional if social anxiety or isolation resulting from foot odor has affected your daily functioning or relationships.
- Refer you to a podiatrist for assessment of orthotics or special shoes if you have foot deformities or conditions contributing to odor.
With a combination of medical treatment, hygiene practices, and possibly orthotic devices, most sufferers of smelly feet can find significant relief. While it may take some trial and error, don’t give up on finding an effective treatment plan.
Smelly feet can make you dread taking your shoes off. But enduring foot odor is unnecessary when medical help is available. If over-the-counter fixes fail, see your doctor to discover the source of the smell and get a targeted treatment plan. With prescription medications, hygiene guidance, and possibly orthotics, you can walk confidently with fresh-smelling feet again. Don’t hesitate to get the help you need to say goodbye to foot odor for good.