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Smelly Feet / Bromodosis

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What is 'Smelly Feet'?

Smelly feet is a common problem though not many people seek medical attention for it. Many of us take it for granted that the odor will remain contained within our shoes and nobody will detect it.

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However, there are several situations where we may have to slip off our shoes, and these could result in a lot of embarrassment. Therefore, it is a good idea to keep the feet free from smell at all times.

Smelly Feet

What are the Causes of Smelly Feet?

Malodor may be localized only to the feet, or may arise from other parts of the body as well.

Smelly feet often results from an infection following accumulation of sweat. Though sweat in the feet itself does not smell, it provides a good environment for bacteria to grow. The bacteria release gases, which cause the feet to smell. Common bacteria that are responsible for smelly feet include Brevibacteria, Propionibacteria and Staphylococcus epidermidis. The condition becomes worse in summer.

Causes of smelly feet include the following:
  • Lack of hygiene, which results in accumulation of sweat and bacteria. For example:
    • Failure to change socks daily
    • Failure to wash sports shoes regularly
    • Failure to wash feet regularly
Causes of Smelly Feet - Failure to Wash Feet
  • Unhealthy foot habits like:
    • Use of nylon socks which do not absorb the sweat
    • Use of plastic or closed shoes which do not allow the feet to breathe freely
  • Tendency for excessive sweating, which results in its accumulation and promotes bacterial growth. It may result in a condition called pitted keratolysis, where the foot develops punched-out pits, which causes foul-smell
  • Infection like:
    • Ringworm infection, which is a fungal infection that usually affects the region between the toes
    • Other bacterial infections can cause ulcers. Ulcers may be more common in patients with diabetes or obstruction of blood flow to the feet

What are the Symptoms and Signs of Smelly Feet?

Smelly feet are a symptom in itself. The malodor may appear when the shoes are removed, or sometimes even if the shoes are on in severe cases. The type of smell may vary though people often complain of a cheesy odor. On careful examination, associated conditions like ringworm infection or pitted keratolysis may be noted. The patient’s shoes and socks should also be observed during examination.

How do you Treat Smelly Feet?

Smelly feet can be treated by maintaining proper hygiene, and using local and/or oral treatments.

Local treatments for smelly feet include:
  • Zinc powder, which has antibacterial and anti-fungal effects, and reduces sweating
  • Aluminum salts to reduce sweating
  • Surgical spirit to keep the feet dry
  • Antibacterial drugs like clindamycin, erythromycin, and benzoyl peroxide, to treat bacterial infection
  • Iontophoresis, which is a procedure that uses a mild electrical current to pass a charged substance, which is usually a drug, through the skin. Tap water iontophoresis is usually done to treat excessive sweating. Severe cases may require the addition of a medication like glycopyrrolate
  • Injection of botulinum toxin to reduce sweating
Treatment for Smelly Feet - Botulinum Toxin Injection

Oral treatments for smelly feet include:
  • Antifungal drugs to treat fungal infection
  • Antibacterial drugs to treat bacterial infection
  • Drugs like glycopyrrolate which reduce the amount of sweating

How to Prevent Smelly Feet?

Some of the ways in which you can avoid smelly feet are as follows:
  • Wash your feet regularly with a good antibacterial soap. Don’t forget to scrub the area between the toes
  • Keep your nails trimmed at all times
  • Rub off hardened and dead skin with pumice stone
  • A regular pedicure will keep your feet clean as well as make them feel pampered
Smelly Feet Prevention - Pedicure
  • Change your socks every day. Cotton and woolen socks are the best socks to prevent smelly feet
  • Ensure that your shoes are clean and free of sweat
  • Do not wear closed shoes for prolonged periods. Sandals are a good option especially in summer
  • Avoid plastic shoes, which do not allow the feet to breathe
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