Most of us have suffered from foot perspiration and odour from time to time, yet for some people, sweaty feet (along with sweaty palms and armpits) are a persistent problem, which can be uncomfortable and embarrassing. For some people, this can significantly affect their day-to-day life, and result in decreased social contact with others. But the condition is treatable.
There are more sweat glands per inch in our feet than anywhere else in the body. Their function is to keep the skin moist and supple and regulate temperature when the weather is hot, if you have an unnaturally high temperature or while exercising. They secrete all the time, not just in response to heat or exercise, like elsewhere in the body.
Excessive sweating, also known as hyperhidrosis, has a lot to do with how the sweat glands in the feet work. With 250,000 sweat glands, feet do tend to sweat more than other parts of the body, but with a daily hygiene routine few people should suffer from the embarrassment that it may cause.
Sweaty feet (along with palms and armpits and the face/scalp) tend to be symmetrical. The exact cause of sweaty feet is unknown but it is due mainly to overactive sweat glands. In some cases, the cause can be genetic.
Other possible causes include stress on the foot caused by a structural problem, or because the foot is under strain or tired, for example when you have been standing on your feet all day.
Although hot weather can make matters worse, sweaty feet is both a summer and a winter problem as well as an inherited condition. It tends to be a long-term condition, which may require treatment over a sustained period of time.
In adolescents and people under 25, sweaty feet are probably caused by overactive sweat glands triggered by changing hormone levels in the body. As the sweat glands on the soles of the feet (and palms of the hand) respond mostly to emotions, both mental and emotional stress is a common cause.
An added problem that often accompanies sweaty feet and signifies its presence is foot odour caused by bacteria on the skin breaking down the sweat and releasing an offensive smell.
Following a simple daily foot hygiene routine is usually effective in dealing with sweaty feet. This may include:
Wearing socks is also essential especially those that absorb moisture like wool, cotton or a wool/cotton mixture. In addition, detachable insoles (and medicated insoles that have a deodorising effect) are recommended as a lot of sweat is absorbed by insoles or the uppers of shoes.
In terms of footwear, well-fitting shoes made of leather, which allow your feet to breathe, are considered best.
For more serious cases where normal foot care is not effective and for more longer term conditions, your doctor may refer you for Iontophoresis (electrical stimulation) and Botulinum toxin injections (botox).
If you have any foot health concerns and think this may potentially lead to a complication then please consider discussing a podiatry referral with your GP.
If your foot becomes red, hot or swollen, with new pain, with or without a wound please ask your GP to refer you to Podiatry.