Sweaty feet

Smell the difference

“Stinky feet”, “pongy smells” are just two of the less complimentary descriptions for this condition: Sufferers are usually more concerned about sweaty feet and the unpleasant foot odour associated with this affliction than their environment. The condition can get bad enough to stop people taking off their shoes at all – and so they are drawn into a vicious circle. Feet sweat more in closed-toed shoes, and the sweat cannot evaporate. These perfect conditions aggravate the problem even further. 

When it comes to damp feet, men are usually disadvantaged in two ways: They naturally have more sweat glands than women, and their work usually requires them to wear closed-toed shoes. This combination can lead to embarrassing situations for sufferers especially in the summer when we sweat more due to the heat. However, it is also possible for the sweat glands to suffer from a hyperfunction, although this condition is only referred to by its name “hyperhidrosis” when the amount of liquid secreted exceeds 50 mg per minute and foot.

How does foot odour occur?

First of all, sweating is a process that is absolutely natural for temperature regulation during physical strain or severe heat. It can even be essential to survival. It enables the body to keep its core temperature stable. Stress situations also trigger the sweat glands – in anticipation of a fight-or-flight response, as it were, when the body needs to be prevented from overheating. Fresh sweat consists of 99% water and is actually odourless. The problem is the bacteria that settle on the skin and break down the sweat: This creates butyric acid, for example, which is responsible for the characteristic sweaty smell.

Symptoms of excessive sweating

  • Excessive sweating by the feet – continually moist or even wet
  • Shoes or socks are moist and smell of sweat
  • Damp, cold feet, even in hot weather
  • Feet continually alternate between hot and cold, despite constant temperatures
  • Strong foot odour when taking off shoes or socks
  • Feet lose their grip while running because of the sweat

Fungi thrive in warm, damp conditions

It is unpleasant when the feet sweat excessively, and not just because of the smell. The relationship between moist feet and the increased risk of infection from filamentous fungi is far more problematic. The warm, damp climate in closed-toed shoes offers these microorganisms ideal conditions for growth. Furthermore, calloused skin on the feet swells up due to the moisture. In this condition it is far more vulnerable to attacks from fungal spores that love to feed off keratin in the horny cells. Foot fungus and nail fungus are exceedingly tiresome, stubborn infections that hardly ever disappear without treatment. And so people who are prone to moist feet need to pay particular attention to strengthening the skin barrier with appropriate care, and make life as difficult as possible for fungal spores with the correct hygiene measures.

Skin care for sweaty feet

Good hygiene is crucial for the prevention of foot odour. Washing your feet every day ensures that they are clean and keeps the bacteria that cause smells at bay – but it does not help with excessive sweating. After washing, the feet should be dried well (also between the toes!), using cream to prevent against foot fungus. Occasional use of a refreshing spray can help to restore a more pleasant climate in shoes and fight against unpleasant smells.

How can I minimise sweat secretion?

  • Wear socks made of natural materials, e.g. cotton
  • Possibly wear toe socks
  • Change your socks every day, or even several times per day if they are sodden after short periods
  • Wear textiles with silver thread (silver has antimicrobial properties)
  • Change your shoes every day and allow them to dry out inbetween
  • Wear special insoles (carbon fibre or cinnamon)
  • Walk around barefoot whenever possible
  • Take footbaths containing a tanning agent such as tannin (e.g. Tannolact)
  • Possibly take alkaline footbaths (this provides unfavourable conditions for certain kinds of bacteria)
  • Footbaths should not be too warm (approx. 30 °C) and no longer than 5 minutes
  • Always dry the feet thoroughly, particularly between the toes
  • Consider putting tissues between the toes to dry those areas; they need to be removed again after half a minute
  • If appropriate, spread cream on the feet that contains active ingredients with an astringent (contracting) effect (e.g. sage, oak bark extract)
  • Do not use “greasy” creams or ointments
  • Avoid glycerin and Vaseline (potentially causes occlusion = closes up the skin)
  • Allow the feet to cool down regularly (“ventilate”, go barefoot whenever possible)
  • Drink sage tea
  • Ensure regular foot care (short nails, reduce “dead space”)
  • Take contrast showers (the temperature should be significantly different – not suitable for people with diabetes)
  • Physical therapy: Tap water iontophoresis (footbath with weak direct current)
  • Possibly botulinum toxin injections (“Botox” injections) to inactivate the sweat glands
  • Possibly sweat gland suction, sweat gland excision (cutting out the sweat glands) or sympathectomy = operative severance of certain nerves that innervate the sweat glands)