We’ve all been there – stuck in close quarters with someone who has stinky feet. Maybe it’s your coworker who insists on taking their shoes off at their desk. Or perhaps it’s your roommate who kicks off their sneakers after a long day and makes the whole room smell like a locker room. Whatever the case may be, dealing with smelly feet can quickly go from annoying to maddening. But can foot odor really drive someone crazy? Let’s take a closer look.
It’s no secret that foot odor can be downright offensive. Our feet contain more sweat glands per square inch than any other part of our body. When feet are confined in shoes and socks all day, that sweat doesn’t have a chance to evaporate. Instead, it accumulates and becomes a breeding ground for bacteria. That bacteria multiplies rapidly and feeds on the sweat, producing isovaleric acid – the compound responsible for the trademark stench of stinky feet.
Some people’s feet naturally sweat more than others due to hyperhidrosis – a condition characterized by excessive sweating. Other factors like wearing non-breathable shoes and socks or not washing feet daily can also cause sweat to accumulate. No matter the cause, when isovaleric acid wafts through the air, most people find the smell disgusting. But could it actually make someone angry enough to lose their cool?
According to some experts, it’s possible. Smells are strongly linked to emotional responses in the brain. A bad odor like smelly feet can trigger feelings of disgust, irritation, or even anger. This is especially true if the smell is particularly overpowering or the person has been exposed to it for an extended period of time.
When we detect a foul odor, signals are sent from our nose to the limbic system – the emotional processing center of the brain. For some individuals, this sets off an intense reaction and they have difficulty controlling their frustration and annoyance over the offending smell. If the person already has anger management issues or is in a foul mood, smelly feet could be the thing that puts them over the edge and causes them to snap.
However, most mentally healthy people are able to keep their cool despite being subjected to stinky feet. Anger management specialists point out that how we respond to unpleasant smells has more to do with our own emotional regulation skills. People who fly off the handle over smelly feet likely have underlying issues with impulsivity and poor self-control.
Still, that doesn’t give stinky feet a free pass. Prolonged exposure to offensive foot odor can grind anyone’s gears, especially if they feel trapped or powerless to escape the smell. At a certain point, even the most patient person will get fed up. They may not completely lose it, but being around smelly feet all the time will probably affect their overall mood and disposition.
So what’s the best way to handle being around someone with particularly stinky feet? If it’s possible, politely excuse yourself from the situation or relocate to get some fresh air. If you can’t readily remove yourself, try breathing through your mouth instead of your nose. You can also discretely apply something with a strong scent like menthol rub under your own nose to help override the foot odor.
When it comes to a roommate, coworker or family member, it’s best to kindly suggest foot hygiene strategies like changing socks frequently, using antibacterial soap, applying foot powder, and making sure shoes properly dry out between wears. Gift them new breathable shoes, moisture wicking socks, Odor-Eaters, or foot deodorant sprays to help get the point across subtly.
At the end of the day, dealing with smelly feet requires patience, tact and self-control. While it may be gross and annoying, foul foot odor alone is unlikely to make a reasonable person completely lose their mind. With diplomacy and a little creative problem-solving, one can usually manage being around even the stinkiest of feet. Just try your best to breathe through it because, like any bad smell, this too shall pass. Unless of course the feet in question belong to your obnoxious Uncle Jerry – then all bets are off!