Sweaty Feet (Hyperhidrosis)


Your feet shed an average of 250 milliliters of sweat every day. The 250,000 sweat glands in your feet are so easily activated that the key is control. The technical term for foot odor is bromhidrosis. The odor is due to the accumulation of bacteria, fungi, molds and yeast on the foot, especially between the toes. Buy breathable material shoes and socks and go for white (some dyes react with bacteria and make things worse). Change your shoes and socks frequently. Charcoal insoles will absorb some of the sweat. Some topical medicaments are available that may help to reduce the sweating.

Problem with Foot Odour or sweaty feet?

Most of us have suffered from foot perspiration and odour from time to time, yet for some people, sweaty feet are a persistent problem which can be embarrassing and uncomfortable.

With 250,000 sweat glands, feet do tend to sweat more than other parts of the body, but with a daily hygiene routine, few people should suffer from the embarrassment that it may cause.

Among the important functions of our skin is to assist in getting rid of the excess heat from our body. This is accomplished by evaporative cooling. When there is excess sweating or it is retained on the body, the sweat accumulates; this is called hyperhidrosis. Sweat ordinarily does not produce an odor. If the sweat stays on the skin too long, it can contribute to the growth of bacteria and the breakdown of skin chemicals. This bad smelling sweat is called bromhidrosis.

Possible Causes

Sweaty feet can be caused by stress on the foot. This may be due to a structural problem, or because the foot is under strain or tired, for example, when you’ve been standing on your feet all day.

Hot weather can make matters worse, although, sweaty feet can be a winter, as well as a summer, problem. It can also be an inherited condition.

In adolescents, sweaty feet are probably caused by over-active sweat glands triggered by changing hormonal levels in the body. As the sweat glands on the soles of the feet (and the palms of the hand) respond mostly to emotion, mental or emotional stress is a common cause.

Risks of Sweaty Feet

Sweaty feet can also have a harmful effect on other aspects of your foot health too. The excess sweat can act as a chemical vehicle and solvent extracting chemicals from the linings of your shoes. These dissolved, shoe chemicals can cause skin rashes (contact or allergic dermatitis). (The sweat can also lead the more rapid deterioration of your shoes.)

Most importantly, the sweat also significantly changes the environment inside your shoes to not only dark and warm, but also damp – the perfect environment for certain yeast, mold, fungal and viral infections of the skin. Sweaty feet are thus more likely to develop skin rashes, yeast infections, athlete’s foot, fungal toenails and warts. If you have any of these conditions, then controlling your hyperhidrosis is very important for treating these concurrent problems.

What to do?

Hygiene: If the feet, toes and toe webs are not well cleansed regularly and kept dry, sweat will accumulate, and foot odour and infections can result.

The feet, toes and toe webs must be “cleansed” well, not just rinsed off. Us a surgical-grade antibacterial soap such as Betadine® Skin Cleanser, Phisoderm® or Hibiclens® (or their generic equivalents) available at your pharmacy. “Deodorant” soaps are not enough to control bacteria. Cleansing means gently cleaning with a washcloth and then lathering up the feet again with one of the antiseptic soaps and allowing that lather to sit on the feet for a minute before washing it off. Then it is important to thoroughly dry the feet and webs, if necessary with a “hair” dryer.

Foot Environment

We usually encase our feet in closed, tight, shoes which are often made of non-absorbent materials, such as patent leather, plastics, vinyl, and rubber. Frequently shoes are glued together instead of sewn. We wear socks made of sweat-retaining materials. Thin stockings made of nylon are worthless in absorbing perspiration. Working in a very warm environment or participating in vigorous activities will naturally make your feet sweat more.

Whenever possible, wear shoes which closely match the shape and contours of your feet and toes. Wear shoes that fit properly; be measured for them; and allow plenty of room in the toe box. If you can not easily wiggle your toes in the shoe, it’s too tight. Wear shoes with uppers made of leather, not synthetic materials. NEVER wear the same shoes two days in a row. Use shoe-trees; and allow your shoes to DRY out a full day before wearing that pair again. Powder your feet, toes and webs (NOT the shoes) with a good foot powder such as ZeaSorb® (which contains micro-fine cellulose) before donning your socks or stockings.

A thin pair of polypropylene socks (AKA “polypro”, e.g. LIFA®) worn under more absorbent socks of acrylic-wool blend will keep the feet drier (and warmer if that is desired). A medium-bulk acrylic sock would be a good substitute for the preceding combination. Avoid all-cotton socks: they ARE absorbent, but they HOLD the perspiration against the skin. Wear clean socks daily. Change your socks or stockings half-way through the day, re-powdering when you do.

At the end of the day, wear sandals or flip-flops around the house. Where appropriate go shoeless with or without a pair of fresh, clean socks. AVOID foam-filled, terry cloth slippers.

What More Can Be Done?

Several other tools and techniques can help to lessen the problem of sweaty (and smelly) feet.

Soaking your feet in (yes!) regular tea (which contains the astringent tannic acid) daily can be helpful (though it may “stain” your feet). Wiping your feet, toes and webs with rubbing alcohol a couple times daily may be helpful too. Allow it to dry thoroughly. In addition to a towel, dry your feet with a hair dryer.

For a severe sweating problem and cracking between the toes, place a wick of gauze in each of the web spaces, extending onto the top and bottom of the feet. These can be cut from a cotton gauze pad or from a roll of soft-woven gauze.

If simpler methods are insufficient, see your chiropodist for further treatment options. Using an “industrial strength” antiperspirant may be needed. DrySol® or even stronger Xerac-AC® is applied nightly to dry feet and washed off in the morning several times each week. These strong preparations work so well that professional guidance is advised.