Bromodosis (smelly feet)

The feet have more sweat glands than any other part of the body.

Introduction

The feet have more sweat glands than any other part of the body. Shoes and socks can prevent sweat from evaporating or being absorbed, which attracts bacteria. The bacteria cause sweat to smell bad, leading to bromodosis (smelly feet).

What causes bromodosis?

If the sweat stays on the body it can encourage bacteria and fungi (which can lead to athlete’s foot) to grow. The smell is caused by the bacteria in the sweat.

Shoes and socks made from synthetic materials increase the amount of sweat you produce and do not allow it to evaporate or be absorbed, so the foot stays wet.

Poor hygiene can sometimes play a part, for example, washing your feet infrequently or not changing socks at least once a day. This allows bacteria to thrive, contributing to foot odour.

Stress, certain medicines and hormone changes can also increase the amount of sweat the body produces, which leads to sweaty feet.

Excessive sweating

Bromodosis can also be caused by hyperhidrosis, a condition where the skin sweats excessively. Hyperhidrosis is often most common in teenagers and pregnant women, whose hormones are changing.

If you have hyperhidrosis and you have been unable to keep your sweating under control, there are a number of medical treatments you can try, such as:

  • Iontophoresis. This involves submerging your feet in a bowl of water through which a weak electric current is passed. It is thought that this blocks the sweat glands. However, it can be expensive.
  • Injections of botulinum toxin (Botox) in the feet. Botox may block the signals from the brain to the sweat glands, reducing the amount of sweat produced.

Read more information about treating hyperhidrosis and [how to stop excessive sweating].

How is bromodosis prevented and treated?

Bromodosis can usually be controlled and treated by taking steps to reduce sweaty feet and bacteria.

Good foot hygiene is essential and the following tips will help prevent bacteria multiplying.

  • Wash your feet daily using mild soap or antifungal soap and a scrubbing brush. Dry them thoroughly, especially between the toes.
  • Keep toenails short and clean.
  • Check the soles of your feet for hard, dead skin and remove it with a foot file. Hard skin can become soggy when damp, which provides an ideal home for bacteria.

Using the wrong shoes and socks or wearing the same pair too frequently can contribute to smelly feet. Below are some tips on how to avoid this.

  • Change socks at least once a day. Change your shoes every 24 hours if you sweat a lot or they are wet to allow them to dry out. Remove insoles to help the drying process.
  • Wear socks that will absorb the moisture, such as thick, soft socks made of natural fibres or sports socks specially designed to absorb moisture.
  • Buy shoes made of leather, canvas or mesh and not synthetic material.
  • Consider wearing open-toed sandals in summer and going barefoot at home in the evenings.

Certain products can help to treat smelly feet, or reduce odour. You may wish to try some of the methods below.

  • Dab your feet with cotton wool dipped in surgical spirit every night to help dry out the skin, taking care to avoid any cracks in the skin.
  • Use an antifungal foot spray or medicated foot powder on your feet.
  • Use medicated insoles, which act as a deodorant, inside your shoes.
  • Natural antiperspirant stones and sprays used for underarms can also be effective on the feet.
  • There are a wide variety of antibacterial soaps made especially for feet available over the counter at your local pharmacy.
  • Potassium permanganate (a mild antiseptic) can be used. However, if it is not used correctly it can temporarily turn the foot and nails brown so it is better to speak to a chiropodist first.
Content supplied by NHS Choices