It starts as an itch on your toes. Then the skin peels and cracks. Suddenly there’s a strange odor emanating from your feet that smells unpleasantly like cheese gone bad. You’ve got athlete’s foot – a fungal infection that can make your feet stinky and uncomfortable. While the infection itself requires antifungal creams and sprays, you can take additional steps to combat the smell and prevent it from recurring. Here’s how to banish athlete’s foot odor for good.
See Your Doctor
The first step is to get an accurate diagnosis from your doctor that the smell emanating from your feet is indeed due to athlete’s foot rather than another condition. A skin scraping or culture can identify the fungal pathogen. Your doctor can prescribe a topical or oral antifungal medication. Follow the medication regimen fully – even if symptoms resolve before completing the course of treatment – to eradicate all fungal spores hiding out in your shoes and socks. Be vigilant about examining your feet and watching for recurrence of symptoms which indicate a reinfection may have occurred requiring further treatment.
Keep Feet Clean and Dry
Fungi thrive in the moist, dark spaces between your toes – so implement a strict hygiene regimen to deny them their favorite environment. Wash feet with antibacterial soap and dry thoroughly, especially between toes, after bathing or exercise when feet are warm and sweaty. Use a hair dryer on a cool setting to fully dry feet if needed. Sprinkle antifungal powder in shoes and socks to help wick away moisture and prevent fungal growth. Consider wiping feet with antibacterial wipes mid-day if sweat is a problem for you. The goal is creating an inhospitable landscape for fungi through dryness.
Rotating pairs of shoes daily allows them to fully dry out between uses inhibiting fungal growth. Place shoes and socks in direct sunlight which naturally sanitizes and dries them. Use UV shoe sanitizers or ozone treatment machines to kill fungi hiding in shoes when odor persists despite other methods. Replace insole inserts frequently as fungi penetrate porous materials over time. Disinfect pedicure tubs or locker room showers before use with an antifungal spray labeled as a disinfectant. Bleach solutions can also sanitize surfaces and floors that bare feet touch. Be vigilant about disinfection anywhere bare feet come into contact with public surfaces.
Create foot baths by adding antifungal essential oils like tea tree, lavender, or thyme in water or combining equal parts vinegar and water for a soak that kills fungi. Salt baths create an unfriendly saline environment for fungi to survive. Dry feet thoroughly after soaking. Soaks curb odor by reducing fungal overgrowth but drying afterwards is key as moisture aids fungi. Making soaks part of your self-care routine helps control infections.
Manage Sweat and Odor
Change socks at least twice daily, or more if heavily sweating, to limit odor production. Wear moisture wicking athletic socks to minimize dampness. Rotate pairs of shoes so each can dry fully between uses. Apply antifungal shoe powder or spray inside shoes before wearing. Place adhesive insoles containing activated charcoal or baking soda in shoes to help absorb odor. Taking measures to keep feet dry limits the growth of smelly fungus.
Maintain Healthy Skin
Fungi exploit cracks in thick callouses around heels or toes so regular exfoliation maintains healthy skin and removes entry points for infections. Apply a urea cream daily to soften and exfoliate skin. See a podiatrist for professional callous removal and nail trimming if overgrowth is a problem. Keeping skin balanced and smooth leaves no cracks for fungi to invade while thick callouses harbor fungal colonies. Preventative foot care stops infections before they produce embarrassing odors.
Watch for Recurrence
Periodically check feet for early signs of fungal reinfection like peeling, inflammation, or itching between the toes. Reapply antifungal treatments at the first indication of infection before odor reappears. Set reminders to routinely apply antifungal powder inside shoes even after symptoms clear to prevent recurrent infections from getting a foothold again. Stay vigilant about foot hygiene and care to prevent frustrating, smelly athlete’s foot from returning over and over.
Dealing with itchy, stinky athlete’s foot is no fun but have hope that the odor can be controlled. Implementing a targeted hygiene regimen, disinfecting shoes and gear, keeping feet clean and dry, actively killing fungi with foot soaks and antifungal treatments, managing sweat that fuels odor, maintaining healthy skin, and continuing prevention after infection clears – all these methods deny fungi the environments they need to proliferate. Be persistent and consistent with foot care best practices and athlete’s foot odor can become a thing of the past. The smelly fungus will have met its match against your vigilance. Your feet and those around you will thank you through freedom from foul fungal odor.