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My Feet Stink! What Really Stops Foot Odor

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My feet smell! I’ve soaked them in vinegar, I shower every day and never wear the same shoes two days in a row. But that disgusting odor always comes back. Help!

Well, you’re certainly making a valiant effort! But don’t despair. You’re taking some smart actions to address your problem. Smelly feet are one of the trickiest types of body odor to overcome. So let’s see why you might not be getting the results you’d like.

Soaking your feet, as you’ve tried, will definitely make them feel better at the end of a long day, but there is little long-term benefit. Vinegar has some antibacterial properties, which can help reduce odor temporarily. The problem is, once your feet go back into the closed, moist environment of a shoe, where bacteria and fungus thrive, the smell will return.

While it’s largely under-recognized as a cause of foot odor, excessive perspiration (a condition known as hyperhidrosis) is often the culprit. The condition, which affects various parts of the body, including the feet, palms and underarms, is more than the run-of-the-mill sweating you might experience after playing, say, a fierce game of tennis. Hyperhidrosis is a medical condition that creates excess sweat, which provides a breeding ground for bacteria and yeast. Hyperhidrosis can occur even in the absence of exertion.

In your case, when sweat and cellular debris from the bacteria and yeast begin to break down, you start to smell foot odor. As bacteria and fungi grow, your feet also become more vulnerable to infections such as athlete’s foot or toenail fungus. To make matters worse, athlete’s foot itself can create foot odor, too.

Daily showering, as you’re already doing, is an important step in fighting any type of body odor. But along with that, you must also keep your feet not only clean but also dry. I recommend that you shower daily with antibacterial soap, dry your feet carefully (between your toes, too) and use antibacterial and antifungal foot powders and sprays that help keep feet dry. If these products don’t do the job, you can also use an antiperspirant on your feet.

It’s good that you don’t wear the same shoes two days in a row, but changing your socks whenever they feel damp will also help keep your feet dry and odor-free. Acrylic socks are the best choice since they wick away moisture better than cotton socks. You may also want to use over-the-counter (OTC) insoles that can be replaced frequently to prevent odor from staying in your shoes. During warm weather, consider wearing sandals, which will allow your feet to “air out” and help keep them sweat-free. If you don’t like sandals, you can opt for a shoe with a breathable mesh upper portion. Also, launder, disinfect or discard foul-smelling shoes. Some shoes are machine washable, or you can use a bleach and water mixture or antibacterial sprays.

If you also experience excessive sweating on your palms, underarms and/or groin, that can be a sign of hyperhidrosis. In that case, consider seeing a dermatologist, who may prescribe a clinical-strength antiperspirant or an oral medication—treatments that should also help with your foot odor. Other treatments that can stop excessive sweating include Botox injections that block a chemical that stimulates sweat glands or iontophoresis, a device that uses low-voltage electric current to shut down the sweat glands.

But first see whether some of the self-care approaches described above give you some relief. Good luck!

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Source: Jonathan Rose, DPM, is a podiatrist in private practice in Baltimore. He is coauthor of The Foot Book: A Complete Guide to Healthy Feet, PodiatryAssociates.org. Date: July 14, 2018 Publication: Bottom Line Health
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