Bromodosis (smelly feet)

Page last reviewed: 13/07/2011

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

People with hyperhidrosis (a condition where the skin sweats excessively) are particularly prone to bromodosis. Synthetic footwear and poor hygiene can make the problem worse (see Causes of bromodosis for more information).

Bromodosis can usually be controlled by taking a number of steps to reduce bacteria, such as washing your feet daily and changing footwear regularly (see Treatment of bromodosis).

Page last reviewed: 13/07/2011

Excessive sweating

Bromodosis can be caused by hyperhidrosis, a condition where the skin sweats excessively. Hyperhidrosis is often most common in teenagers and pregnant women, who are undergoing hormone changes.

If the sweat is retained on the body, for example by shoes and socks, it can encourage the growth of bacteria and fungi (which can lead to athlete's foot). The smell is caused by the bacteria in the sweat.

Synthetic footwear

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

Hygiene

Infrequent washing of the feet and not changing socks at least once a day can allow bacteria to thrive, contributing to foot odour.

Other factors

Stress, certain medicines and hormone changes can increase the amount of sweat the body produces.

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Page last reviewed: 13/07/2011

Bromodosis can usually be controlled and treated by taking a number of steps to reduce bacteria:

  • Good foot hygiene is essential. Wash your feet daily using mild soap or antifungal soap and a scrubbing brush, and dry them thoroughly, especially between the toes.
  • Change socks at least once a day. If you sweat a lot, change your shoes too.
  • Dust your feet with a medicated foot powder.
  • Wear socks that will absorb the moisture, such as thick, soft socks made of natural fibres or sports socks specially designed to absorb moisture. Avoid synthetic materials. 
  • Buy shoes made of leather, canvas or mesh and not synthetic material.
  • Try not to wear the same pair of shoes two days in a row, especially if they have become wet. They need time to dry out. Remove insoles to help the drying process.
  • Keep toenails short and clean to stop bacteria from multiplying.
  • 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.
  • Wipe your feet with surgical spirit every night, taking care to avoid any cracks in the skin.
  • Use an antifungal foot spray for feet and shoes.
  • Natural antiperspirant stones used for underarms can also be effective on the feet.
  • Potassium permanganate (a mild antiseptic) can be used, but if not used correctly it can temporarily turn the foot and nails brown.

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Treating hyperhidrosis

If you have hyperhidrosis and lifestyle changes do not keep your sweating under control, there are a number of medical treatments you can try, including:

  • Iontophoresis. This involves submerging your feet in a bowel 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.

 

Content provided by NHS Choices www.nhs.uk and adapted for Ireland by the Health A-Z.

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