What is it?
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 embarrassing and uncomfortable. For some people, this can affect their day-to-day life considerably resulting in decreased social contact with others but the condition is treatable.
Sweaty feet is a complaint known as Hyperhidrosis (or excessive sweating) and has a lot to do with how the sweat glands in this part of the body 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.
There are more sweat glands per inch in our feet than anywhere else in the body and their function is to keep the skin moist and therefore 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.
What causes the problem?
Sweaty feet (along with palms and armpits and the face/scalp) tends to be symmetrical. The exact cause is unknown but due mainly to overactive sweat glands. In some cases, the cause can be genetic.
Possible other causes include stress on the foot sometimes 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.
Is it serious?
Although hot weather can make matters worse, sweaty feet is both a summer and a winter problem as well as an inherited condition. It also tends to be a long-term condition which may require treatment over a sustained period of time.
In some cases, sweaty feet can lead to athlete’s foot or blisters.
Who gets it?
In adolescents and people generally under 25, sweaty feet is 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.
How do I know I have it?
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.
How do I prevent it?
Following a simple daily foot hygiene routine is usually effective in dealing with sweaty feet. This may include washing your feet with anti-bacterial soap, applying cream and/or using an absorbent foot powder and not wearing the same footwear every day but rotating what you wear so shoes have a chance to dry out.
Wearing socks is also considered essential especially those that absorb moisture like wool, cotton or a wool/cotton mixture often helps. In addition, detachable insoles (and medicated insoles which 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.
What are the treatments?
For more serious cases where normal foot care is not effective and more longer term conditions, your doctor may refer you for Iontophoresis (electrical stimulation) and Botullinum toxin injections (botox).
When should I see a podiatrist about it?
If you experience any foot care issues which do not resolve themselves naturally or through routine foot care within three weeks, it is recommended to seek the help of a healthcare professional such as your GP to refer you to your local NHS trust for free treatment but if you do not qualify for this, or need urgent attention, you should contact a private podiatrist.
To talk to a podiatrist (also known as a chiropodist) about the options available regarding treatment, you can contact an NHS podiatrist or a private practice podiatrist. In both cases, always ensure that any practitioners you visit are registered with the Health Professionals Council (HPC) and describe themselves as a podiatrist (or chiropodist).