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 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.
What causes the problem?
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.
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 tends to be a long-term condition, which may require treatment over a sustained period of time.
Who gets it?
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.
How do I know I have the condition?
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
- Not wearing the same footwear every day
- Rotating what shoes you wear so they have a chance to dry out.
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.
What are the treatments?
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).
When should I see a podiatrist?
If you experience any foot care issues which do not resolve themselves naturally or through routine foot care within three weeks, you should seek the help of a healthcare professional.
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 and Care Professions Council (HPC) and describe themselves as a podiatrist (or chiropodist).
To contact an NHS podiatrist, please contact your GP practice for information on an NHS referral (in some areas you can self-refer).To see a private practice podiatrist, use our search Find a podiatrist.