Do your feet produce an odor that could peel paint off the walls? Do people shy away when you take your shoes off? You may have a condition commonly known as smelly feet. While stinky feet can be embarrassing, they may also point to an underlying health issue. Read on to learn what causes stinky feet and when you should see a doctor.
Causes of Stinky Feet
Several factors can cause stinky feet:
Sweat: Your feet contain more sweat glands per square inch than any other part of your body. When your feet sweat, bacteria on your skin start to rapidly multiply and produce odor-causing substances. Wearing tight, non-breathable shoes and socks can make the problem worse by not allowing sweat to evaporate.
Fungal infections: Athlete’s foot, a fungal infection, can cause itching, scaling, cracking, and odor. The infection thrives in warm, moist environments like sweaty shoes and gym locker rooms. Fungi on the feet produce smelly substances as waste products.
Poor hygiene: Not washing your feet regularly can allow odor-producing bacteria and fungi to accumulate. Make sure to scrub your feet with soap and dry thoroughly every day.
Hyperhidrosis: A condition characterized by excessive sweating in amounts greater than needed for temperature regulation. People with hyperhidrosis often have sweaty, smelly feet.
Bacterial overgrowth: Bacteria such as staphylococcus and corynebacterium naturally live on the skin. When populations explode, the bacteria’s metabolic waste products have a foul, cheese-like smell. This is common in older individuals.
Diabetes: High blood sugar allows bacteria and fungi to thrive, sometimes leading to foot infections. Diabetes can also damage nerves in the feet, causing excess dry skin that cracks and becomes infected.
When to See a Doctor
Occasional foot odor is normal, especially if you wear closed shoes all day or exercise frequently. However, you should see a podiatrist or dermatologist if:
- Odor persists after washing and changing socks/shoes daily
- Odor is very strong or unusual
- Feet are excessively sweaty
- You have itching, burning, redness, irritation, or scaling on your feet
- Odor is accompanied by signs of infection like pus, swelling, warmth, or tenderness
- You have foot ulcers or wounds that won’t heal
- You have a weakened immune system or diabetes
Getting proper treatment is important, as smelly feet can negatively impact your self-esteem. Odor accompanied by infection also requires medical care.
Treatments for Stinky Feet
Treatments your doctor may recommend include:
Antifungal medications: Prescription antifungal creams, sprays, or oral medications to treat fungal infections causing odor.
Antibiotics: If a bacterial infection is the culprit, antibiotics taken orally or topically applied to the skin are the treatment.
Hygiene measures: Proper foot hygiene is essential. Wash and dry your feet twice a day, wear clean cotton socks, rotate shoes, and use antifungal foot powder.
Prescription antiperspirants: Stronger than over-the-counter products, prescription antiperspirants containing aluminum chloride can help curb excess sweating.
Iontophoresis: Using a weak electrical current while soaking your feet sends minerals to block sweat glands. Do this a few times per week for results.
Botox injections: Botox injections every few months can block signals to the sweat glands that cause excessive sweating.
Surgery: For severe hyperhidrosis, surgery to remove the sweat glands may be an option.
Preventing Stinky Feet
You can help avoid smelly feet by:
- Washing and thoroughly drying your feet daily
- Using antibacterial soap and rotating pairs of shoes
- Wearing moisture-wicking socks made of natural fibers
- Using antifungal foot powder on clean, dry feet
- Wearing appropriate shoes for the occasion and size of your feet
- Letting shoes completely dry out between wears
- Getting sweaty or damp shoes professionally cleaned
- Treating any fungal infections promptly
- Managing conditions like diabetes or hyperhidrosis
- Seeing a podiatrist if good hygiene doesn’t solve the problem
While stinky feet can be embarrassing, they’re often treatable. Pay attention to foot hygiene and see a doctor if odor persists despite your best efforts. Getting to the root cause can help you put your best foot forward odor-free.