Do you ever think, “my feet stink,” when you toss off your shoes after a long day? If you dread the lingering stench, we’re here to help. Foot and ankle specialist Kosta Antonopoulos, DPM, FACFAS, says it’s actually a pretty common problem. He explains what causes stinky feet and how to get rid of foot odor.
What Causes Stinky Feet (Bromodosis)?
“The primary cause is from a lack of ventilation for your feet. There are thousands of sweat glands in feet, which produce quite a bit of sweat each day. The unpleasant smell comes when the perspiration isn’t allowed to evaporate.”
However, Dr. Antonopoulos says it isn’t actually the sweat causing the foot odor. There are numerous bacteria that live on feet, which feed off the sweat, producing an acid that actually causes the odor.
If that’s not enough, fungus also thrives in warm, moist environments like what sweaty feet provide. So, if the bacteria on your foot isn’t what causes foot odor, fungus might be the culprit. Many people know the fungus as athlete’s foot, and it can also cause the foot to smell unpleasant.
Dr. Antonopoulos says other foot odor causes include poor hygiene, wearing the same shoes every day and some disease processes. However, toenail issues don’t play any role in the overall stench of your feet, nor does gender.
How to Get Rid of Stinky Feet
Dr. Antonopoulos has eight, non-prescription suggestions for stinky feet.
- Practice good hygiene. Keep feet clean, dry and cool.
- Dry your feet. Make sure to towel off feet after a shower or bath. Don’t forget between your toes.
- Try a spray. Purchase an over-the-counter foot deodorant or antiperspirant.
- Purchase medicated insoles. These absorb sweat and unpleasant odors.
- Select the right socks. Some socks contain chemicals that reduce bacteria load. Also, try socks with moisture-wicking fibers (pulls sweat away from the body) to increase ventilation. These include socks made of copper, wool or cool max.
- Change socks. Change your socks once a day. You may need to do it even more often if it’s warm or you’re exercising.
- Rotate shoes. If you wear the same shoes daily, consider getting two pairs and rotating between them.
- Watch your diet. Eating a balanced, healthy diet helps reduce the risk of smelly feet.
What Should I Do if My Feet Smell Bad Even After Washing Them?
Dr. Antonopoulos says if you’re struggling with smelly feet even after washing, opt for a fragrance-free soap. Again, make sure to dry your feet well when you’re done. He says you could also try an antifungal powder if the stench won’t let up.
Medication & Treatments for Stinky Feet
If you’ve tried all the options above, Dr. Antonopoulos suggests contacting your primary care provider for more advice. Medical professionals can offer a variety of other options.
- Prescription medications. They include topical steroids, antifungals or antibacterials.
- Prescription sprays. These are topical and can be prescribed to reduce perspiration.
- Electrical stimulation. This can be used to reduce perspiration.
Other Factors Linked to Foot Odor Causes
It’s easy to say, “Try to stay calm and cool,” but Dr. Antonopoulos says increased amounts of stress can actually lead to increased perspiration—which doesn’t help anyone fighting odors.
“Hormonal changes can cause you to sweat more, too. For this reason, teenagers and pregnant women are more prone to smelly feet,” Dr. Antonopoulos says.
Finally, a condition known as hyperhidrosis can cause more perspiration than usual in areas like the hands, underarms and feet. While people usually sweat to cool the body, those with hyperhidrosis sweat even when the body’s temperature doesn’t need to be regulated. Talk to your doctor if you think this might be happening to you.
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