Foot Odor (Smelly Feet)
The unpleasant body odor originating from the feet due to sweat or some other disorder is known as Foot Odor. The problem of smelly feet is rather common and affects millions of individuals. A smelly foot can be embarrassing and uncomfortable in public even though it’s not exceptional.
Food odor is commonly noticed in people who wear shoes daily for a longer time. Though, more commonly seen in men, smelly female feet too make people frown more often. It is also noticed that the most of the individuals suffering from foot odor actually have the problem of smelly sweaty feet indicating that sweating is the major foot odor cause. This type of people usually has sweaty smelly feet at any time of the year irrespective of the climatic changes.
There are various factors that cause foot odor like excessive sweating, stress, hormonal changes and certain medicines, drugs or foods. However, fortunately, there are various easy ways too that can help in getting rid of the obnoxious odor in feet.
Smelly Feet Causes
The embarrassing situation of one’s smelly feet in public makes the person wonder what causes smell feet. Given below are some causes of foot odor and the various conditions that lead to the unpleasant smell.
An average human being’s feet contain more sweat glands compared to other parts of the body. Approximately 2 million to 5 million sweat glands are present on the human skin, of which about 500,000 are located in the feet itself.
The sweat glands are of two types – apocrine glands and eccrine glands. Of these, only the eccrine glands are found in the feet. Eccrine glands are responsible for the human body’s thermo-regulation. These glands produce sweat when the feet are enclosed in shoes and socks for a long time. This sweating gives way to the unpleasant smell we generally call foot odor.
It is not exactly the secreted sweat that results in the foul smell but in fact a type of bacteria named Brevibacteria causes smelly feet. Food odor usually appears to be ‘cheesy’ and at times, the odor is similar to smell of ammonia. This is because Brevibacteria is also responsible for turning certain types of cheese pungent. These bacteria are active on the soles of feet and in between the toes. The Brevibacteria convert methionine to methanethiol, which smells like sulphur. This breakdown of the amino acid into methanethiol gives out the foul smell.
The active bacteria present on the feet are mainly responsible for feet odor rather than the sweat. The sweat itself is odorless comprising of only water and salt. The brevibacteria, like any other bacteria, grow and stay active in moist conditions. When the sweat glands secrete sweat, the brevibacteria and other fungi become active and start growing. These bacteria and fungi ingest the dead skin cells of the feet and the chemical reactions that follow lead to the stinking smell of foot odor.
People who sweat more are at higher risk of emanating foot odor than those who sweat normally. Engaging in physical activities causes an individual to sweat more and thereby leading to smelly feet.
When wearing shoes for long hours, the feet are prone to sweat generously. Since there isn’t any room for the air to circulate, the sweat dries on the skin surface. The bacteria then get activated in breaking down the salts present in the dried sweat. The chemical changes result in foot odor.
Shoes and socks made of synthetic materials lead to more sweating as these block the air flow thus trapping the damp air around the feet itself. This results in an increase in the population of brevibacteria on the feet which in turn increases the chemical reactions.
A few certain types of fabrics like nylon worsen the condition of smelly feet. Smelly nylon feet are a result of the inability of nylon to absorb sweat effectively. Nylon socks do not allow the feet to breathe as freely as cotton socks do. Use of nylon pantyhose too leads to smelly female feet.
Gathered dirt and sweat is decomposed by brevibacteria resulting in foul smell. Shoes like tennis shoes that are mostly made up of synthetic materials and this contributes to excessive sweating.
Persons with more hair on their feet are more at risk of developing smelly feet. The presence of hair on feet, especially toes, presents more area to the bacteria to increase in number and carry out more activities.
Poor hygienic habits related to feet lead to foot odor. Socks should be changed on a daily basis and the same pair of shoes should not be used for two consecutive days. Keeping the feet untidy and not cleaning them at regular periods promotes foul feet odor.
Eating some particular foods make the body and especially the feet even smellier. These include garlic, curries, chilly, onions and alcohol. Some drugs like penicillin too lead to smelly feet.
Some other medical conditions lead to foot odor even though apparently there’s no connection between these for some:
- Anemia or low blood count can lead to foot odor. The blood circulation rate decreases in a condition of anemia and the feet doesn’t receive enough supply of blood and hence produce odor on perspiring.
- Hyperthyroidism is a case of overactive thyroid. The hormonal changes that occur during hyperthyroidism lead to foot odor.
- Kidney or Liver disorders lead to improper functioning of the process for elimination of wastes from the body. This results in a systemic disorder as the toxins accumulate in the body giving out body odor including from smelly feet.
How to get rid of Smelly Feet?
Given below are some tips on how to get rid of foot odor and prevent it to avoid embarrassment in public:
- Maintaining good hygiene is necessary and in fact the first step for preventing food odor. The feet should be washed daily with warm water using a good anti-bacterial soap. The use of anti-bacterial soaps and the warm water kills the bacteria thus leaving no space for any bacterial activity to result in unpleasant odor.
- Socks should be changed regularly and a clean pair should be used after every use. Washing the feet but putting on the same smelly socks won’t help in avoiding smelly feet.
- Cotton shoes or those of other natural fabrics should be used as these absorb sweat efficiently. A sock made from synthetic materials like nylon and polyester prevent passage of air and does not absorb sweat and these should be avoided.
- Placing odor-eater inserts in shoes can be helpful.
- Antiperspirants and deodorants can help in getting rid of smelly feet but these too don’t work on dirty feet.
Smelly Feet Remedy
Apart from the above mentioned precautionary measures, there are various other remedies for foot odor. These include the following:
- The feet should be kept dry at all times from sweat. Allow the feet to breathe freely and wear the type of shoes and socks that help in easier passage of air keeping the feet dry.
- The shoes should be dried out completely before putting them on.
- Antiperspirants or deodorants prevent sweat release from the sweat glands or make the skin more acidic. This reduces the bacterial activity considerably.
- Dipping the smelly feet in tea for about 30 minutes daily helps reduce foot odor. The tannic acid in strong black tea has the potential to destroy bacteria. It also closes the open pores thereby keeping the feet dry.
- Sprinkling talcum powder or baking soda on the feet reduces heavy sweating.
- Mix vinegar and water in a 1:2 ratio. Soaking the feet in this combination is considered a reliable foot odor remedy.
- Cleaning or soaking the feet in warm water mixed with two tablespoons of Epsom salts helps keep the feet dry.
- Rubbing alcohol or isopropyl alcohol on the feet after shower helps in removing the unpleasant smell from feet.
- The bacterial growth on feet can be decreased by applying a 5% or 10% solution of Benzyl Peroxide gel.
Smelly Feet Cure
In most of the cases, the home remedies are enough for fighting against feet odor. However, the severe conditions like hyperhydrosis or brohmohydrosis require professional help for treatment. Few sweaty smelly feet solutions for these types of severe conditions are as follows:
- Drugs containing a combination of aluminum chloride and ethyl alcohol are found to be quite effective. These can be applied at night and then washed off completely the next morning. However, care should be taken as these types of drugs have been reported to cause skin irritation.
- The sweat glands can be dried up by giving acetic acid baths to the feet three times a day.
- An electrode therapy known as iontophoresis provides temporary relief. It involves immersing the feet in water with 15-20 mA of electric current passing through it. This method temporarily closes the sweat glands by the injection of electronically-charged ions into the skin.
- Botulism toxin injections can be injected into the feet to dry up the sweat glands. However, foot odor cure has its limitations like it works only for a period of maximum 9 months.
- Antibiotics involving 1% Clindamycin or 2% Erythromycin are effective in killing the bacteria responsible for foot odor.
- Though in very rare cases, foot odor is eliminated with surgery as the last option. A surgery can be done to either block the nerves or remove the sweat glands of feet that are responsible for sweat secretion.
Foot Odor Sprays
For those who don’t find enough time to opt for home remedies or other cures for foot odor, antiperspirants and deodorants prove to be quite handy.
An antiperspirant contains powerful astringents like aluminum salts. These sprays temporarily block the sweat pores and thus help in reducing the foot odor.
A deodorant works against foot odor by neutralizing the sweat smell. It acts as an antiseptic against the bacteria by turning the skin more acidic. The more acidic nature of the skin prevents the bacterial activity and keeps the unpleasant foot odor away. Deodorants are preferred over antiperspirants as these not only give fresh smell from feet but also make no interruption in the natural cooling process of sweating.
Journal of Investigative Dermatology