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Health

Why do my feet smell?

20 January 2020 in Health

Having smelly feet can be an embarrassing condition to live with, let alone talk about. But remember: your feet have more sweat glands than any other part of your body, so it’s normal for them to sweat.

And if your feet sweat a lot, they’re likely to smell.

That’s why having smelly feet is such a common problem, and you’re certainly not alone in feeling embarrassed by it.

So, why do feet smell, and are yours as bad as you think they are?

What causes smelly feet?

Conditions within your shoe are a big cause of smelly feet (otherwise known as bromodosis). Think of your shoe as having its own microclimate. Temperature changes and humidity (from sweat) can affect how much your feet smell.

And it’s not just overheating that causes feet to sweat - sudden changes in temperature or the cold may cause it too. This means that smelly feet can be an issue during the colder months in the year. It’s common to put on extra layers of socks or wear heavy boots to keep warm in winter. But when you do this, your feet naturally sweat and produce moisture that gets trapped inside your shoes. This creates a damp, warm environment that’s perfect for bacteria to thrive in.

Foot odour occurs when bacteria feed on a chemical in your sweat, called leucine. And the breakdown of this chemical produces an acid which creates that familiar sweaty feet smell.

Higher-risk groups for smelly feet

If you’re prone to fungal infections or you tend to sweat a lot, you may be more likely to have smelly feet. Athlete’s foot or a condition where your glands produce too much sweat (hyperhidrosis) can both lead to foot odour.

Teenagers and pregnant women are more likely to develop smelly feet due to hormonal changes that can make them sweat more.

You’re also more likely to have smelly feet if you’re on your feet all day and if you wear the same shoes day after day. This is because shoes, and therefore feet, become smelly if sweat soaks into them and they don’t have time to dry out before being worn again.

Smelly feet - grades of severity

Could your feet be more smelly than normal? Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Are you uncomfortable taking off your shoes in public because of the smell, even when it’s not hot or humid outside?
  2. Would you feel self-conscious or anxious using a communal shower (in the gym, for example) because of your foot odour?
  3. Do you practice good hygiene but still get smelly feet?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions then your feet may be more sweaty and smelly than the average person’s.

If you’re worried about your sweat levels or want to find ways to reduce foot odour and prevent smelly feet, read our article on how to stop smelly feet.

Is it normal to have smelly feet?

It really depends on who is asking the question. If you fall into a higher-risk group (mentioned above), the chances are your feet are normal and you simply need to take extra steps to keep them clean and dry.

If not, you may need to improve your self-care routine or see a doctor to find out if your foot odour is actually a symptom of an underlying medical condition.

References

Healey N. Why you can still get smelly feet in winter [Internet]. Patient.info. 2020 [cited 20 January 2020]. Available here.

How to stop smelly feet [Internet]. nhs.uk. 2020 [cited 20 January 2020]. Available here.

Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.

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