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Why Do My Feet Smell?

Brandt R Gibson, DPM
Podiatrist, Neuropathy Doctor, Father of 11 and Founder of Mountain West Foot & Ankle Institute
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Let’s face it—there’s nothing worse than kicking your shoes off at the end of a long day and noticing an awful odor. Whether it’s coming from your socks, your shoes or your feet themselves, you want it to stop—fast. Changing your socks frequently--even in winter--is one way to combat foot odor

Before we can eliminate foot odor, we need to determine its root cause. Let’s look at some of the common culprits when it comes to smelly feet.

Foot Infections

Did you know that, back in the day, a lot of bacterial infections were diagnosed by the way they smelled? Apparently many bacteria have their own distinct smell—from the odor of feces to an aroma akin to that of grapes—that could allow for a quick diagnosis.

Building off of that idea, scientists have developed a device called an electronic nose; using sensors that mimic receptors in our nose, the e-nose can help sniff out bacteria so that treatment can begin well before lab cultures are even processed—one of the most frequent uses of an e-nose is to diagnose tuberculosis.

Seeing how effective this tool can be, scientists are working on a new type of e-nose that can be used to help diagnose diabetic foot infections.  Why is this the next frontier for electronic sniffers?

Diabetic foot infections are notoriously hard to treat (which is one of the reasons I always emphasize the importance of preventative foot care); if left untreated, they can develop into ulcers that ultimately may result in a foot or leg amputation. 

By developing an electronic nose that targets foot infections, researchers are hoping to improve the lead time on bacterial diagnosis, meaning treatment can be administered faster and more effectively.

Sweaty Feet

When you've got sweaty feet, the combination of moisture and warmth produces the perfect environment for those smelly bacteria we just talked about. Once again, the bacteria is responsible for odor—they create it by breaking down your sweat and your dead skin cells.

Since you don’t need a professional nose sniffer to deal with this issue, what can you do to beat sweat-related stink? The key to resolving this issue is regular sock changes, regardless of the weather. And if fresh, clean socks don’t squash your stink woes, you can always try putting antiperspirant on your feet. You don’t even need a different type—you can use the same stick you put on your armpits (although you may want to devote one stick for each part, simply for hygiene purposes. But we don’t judge, so you do you.)

You’ve Got a Fungus

Athlete’s Foot is a very common cause of foot odor—and it’s also a common problem for those of you who frequently go barefoot, especially in gym locker rooms or at the pool.  

In order to help prevent this kind of foot infection, do your best to keep feet in flip flops or shower shoes when walking around in public. Keeping feet dry will help stave off this type of infection—remember to towel off between your toes, as well, as this is a very common spot for Athlete’s Foot to develop.

And, if you do believe Athlete’s Foot is at the root of your foot odor, please do not attempt to treat your infection at home. Over-the-counter creams may alleviate your symptoms temporarily, but will often not cure the problem completely, leaving you vulnerable to frequently-returning symptoms.

Whatever you believe is causing your feet to smell funky, it’s crucial to check in with your foot doctor if the problem persists for any extended period of time. Whether the smell is a preliminary warning sign of diabetic foot infections or just a heads-up to deal with your sweat situation, a trained podiatrist like Dr. Gibson can help determine the proper diagnosis. In this way, you can be sure that you’re applying the correct fix to your feet, leaving you safe from smells (and more serious complications!)

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