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Foot Odor: A Sign of Illness?

Taking off your shoes at the end of a long day feels great. But if you suffer from foot odor, they might not smell so great. Having smelly feet can make you wonder what’s causing the odor and if it’s a sign of an underlying health issue.

Foot odor is a common problem, because feet sweat more than other parts of the body. Sweat and bacteria go hand-in-hand, producing unpleasant odor that lingers in your shoes and on your feet. 

Foot odor is embarrassing and uncomfortable for many who suffer from stinky feet. Having smelly feet can make you wonder what’s causing it and if it’s a sign of an underlying health issue. Lisa Kay Burson, DPM and Joe Aoun, DPM at The Foot & Ankle Specialists are experts in foot health, and the good news is that foot odor is usually simple to remedy.

Why feet smell

Your feet have about 250,000 sweat glands. That’s more sweat glands per square inch than any other area of the body, so it’s no surprise that feet get sweaty quickly.

When feet sweat, skin gets wet and creates an inviting environment for bacteria naturally found in the environment. Wearing shoes and socks traps sweat and bacteria, often making foot odor worse.

Bacteria collect in your shoes, socks, and on your skin. The bacteria multiply, eating the dead skin cells and oil that are on your feet. As the bacteria breaks down, it releases a smelly odor.  

Smelly feet can occur alone, but certain foot conditions, such as athlete’s foot, may cause smelly feet, too. Up to 15% of people have very smelly feet, due to the type of bacteria that grows (Kyetococcus sedentarius).

When foot odor may indicate an underlying condition

Bromodosis is the medical term for excessively smelly feet, but having bromodosis doesn’t mean you’ll develop other health complications. Most of the time, foot odor isn’t a sign of underlying illness.

However, severe sweating and foot odor in every season — not just when it’s hot during the summer — could be a sign of hyperhidrosis. Hyperhidrosis is excessive sweating even if you aren’t overheated. It may cause sweaty, smelly feet and be so severe that it interferes with your daily life.

Many people think that foot odor is linked to diabetes. Although having smelly feet doesn’t indicate diabetes, people with diabetes do need to take special care when it comes to their feet.

Diabetes can cause peripheral neuropathy and peripheral artery disease, and feet may get damaged without your knowing it. A strong odor could be a sign of a wound or ulcer, which needs immediate medical attention. 

What to do about foot odor

Staving off foot odor starts with good hygiene. Wash your feet with mild soap and lukewarm water at least once a day. Dry them thoroughly, and make sure to remove all moisture between your toes. Keep your toenails short and clean. 

The shoes and socks you wear can make a difference when you’re fighting foot odor, too. Wear clean, moisture-wicking socks every day. Wearing the same pair of shoes every day may not give them enough time to dry out, so consider getting two pairs of shoes and alternating them.

Going barefoot at home and sleeping without socks on may help reduce foot odor because sweat isn’t held against your skin or trapped inside shoes. Don’t go barefoot outside though, because this could invite other bacteria to the skin of your feet. 

If you have diabetes, Dr. Burson and Dr. Aoun can recommend methods for keeping your feet clean and healthy. We offer toenail trimming, foot exams, and more to help you avoid foot odor and other complications like slow-healing wounds.

Fight stinky feet with help from The Foot & Ankle Specialists. Call the office nearest you, or request an appointment online to get started.

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