A common and vexing foot problem that is often not spoken of is sweaty feet which when left untreated leads to smelly or foot odor, affectionately called “toe jam”. Have you ever shaken hands with or touch the feet of a friend or family member and it is wet from sweat? Well, they may have hyperhidrosis.
Hyperhidrosis is excessive sweating of the feet. It’s slightly more common in men than in women, and more common in young adults than older adults. People whose feet sweat excessively often also have problems with excessive sweating of the palms also. Hyperhidrosis can cause great emotional distress and occupational disability for many people. It is estimated to affect 0.6 to one percent of teenagers and as high as 2.8 percent of the population of the United States. Hyperhidrosis most commonly occurs among people aged 25 to 64 years of age – but some may develop it from early childhood or as teenagers.
Excessive sweating of the feet seems to be an inherited problem. No one knows exactly why it occurs, but some experts claim it is caused by sympathetic over activity. It is a disorder of the sweat glands found under the arms, on the soles of the feet and palms of the hand. Most people sweat when it’s hot out, or when they become warm, nervous or excited. People with hyperhidrosis sweat excessively almost all the time. Hyperhidrosis can either be generalized on the whole body or localized to specific parts of the body. Hands, feet, armpits, and the groin area are among the most common areas where hyperhidrosis occur due to the high concentration of sweat glands there. Hyperhidrosis may also occur in certain medical conditions such as disorders of the thyroid or pituitary glands, diabetes mellitus, tumors, gout, menopause, certain drugs, or mercury poisoning.
The most obvious symptom of hyperhidrosis is feet that sweat excessively. Some people sweat so much that their feet may slip around inside their shoes. The feet may also have a whitish, wet appearance. This weakens the integrity of the skin and can lead to open wound or sores and may allow infections to set in. Foot odor is also common because of the fungal infection to the foot. Because of the sweating, moisture and fungus gets trapped in the shoes and over time they become infected and smell as well. So, when the individual wears the shoes they re-infect themselves with the fungus and the feet and shoes smell.
Here’s what you can do at home for sweaty and smelly feet
Good foot hygiene practices are essential. Wash your feet daily with an antibacterial soap; be sure to wash between the toes. Dry the feet thoroughly, then apply cornstarch, foot powder, or an antifungal powder to your feet. Wear wicking socks that draw the moisture away from your feet instead of trapping it. Synthetic blends are designed to wick moisture away from the skin and work best to keep the feet dry. One hundred percent cotton socks should be avoided; even though they absorb moisture very well, they do not wick it away from the skin and can lead to blisters. It’s also a good idea to change socks during the day if they become wet. Take an extra pair of socks to school or at work, and change socks mid-way through the day. Change shoes daily also. The shoe you wear today may still be moist if you wear them tomorrow so it’s best to wear them every other day and be sure they are dry before wearing them again.
When to visit a podiatrist
If your feet sweat excessively and/or if you have a strong odor to your feet, see a podiatrist. According to the US National Library of Medicine, less than 40 percent of people with excessive sweating actually seek medical care. If left untreated sweaty feet can become smelly feet. A podiatrist can help you treat and control this embarrassing condition.
Most often, excessive sweating of the feet is diagnosed based on signs and symptoms and a physical exam of the feet. A podiatrist can also do a starch-iodine test to confirm the diagnosis. Other tests may be ordered to rule out conditions that can lead to hyperhidrosis.
Both topical and systemic medications have been used in the treatment of hyperhidrosis. Treatment options are tailored to your symptoms. Over-the-counter products (such as Certin-Dri and Xerac) have low concentration of prescription medication. They work best if applied to the area when dry and covered with plastic overnight. The feet should be washed in the morning and effect should be seen within one month. If no change is seen, see a podiatrist as soon as possible. Prescription antiperspirants may be applied directly to the feet and are more effective than over-the-counter versions. Botox injections can temporarily control excessive sweating of the feet which may generally last for about six to nine months. A physical therapy technique called iontophoresis, which uses water to conduct a mild electrical current through the skin, has been found to helpful for many people with sweaty feet. This can be done at the physical therapists, the doctor’s office or people may be able to purchase an iontophoresis machine for at-home use. Severe cases of sweaty feet may be treated with a surgical procedure called a sympathectomy, which interrupts the nerve signals that tell the feet to sweat excessively. It has been reserved as the final treatment option and is not often done.
Sweaty feet are closely related to smelly feet which results from a fungal infection in the foot. So, people are often treated for athlete’s feet as well with either topical and or oral antifungal medication.
If you have been experiencing this embarrassing and challenging problem without relief, it’s time to see a podiatrist.
• For more information, email us at email@example.com or visit www.apma.org. To see a podiatrist, telephone 325-2996 for an appointment, visit Bahamas Foot Centre on Rosetta Street, or call 394-5824 for an appointment; or visit Bahamas Surgical Associates Centre on Hilltop Medical Centre off 4th Terrace Collins Avenue. In Grand Bahama, call Lucayan Medical Centre at 373-7400 for an appointment.