Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Stinky Feet

Dear Dr Peg,

My girlfriend told me I have stinky feet. She thinks it might be a fungus thing and wants me to get it taken care of. I don’t notice it, but she said that her socks even stunk when she washed them with mine. I mostly wear the same pair of shoes, which my brother handed down to me, but I shower every day and put on fresh socks. I’m a clean person. Please help me. She’s sleeping on the couch.

Dear Fragrant Feet,

Your girlfriend is probably right (aren’t they always?). You likely have a fungal infection of the feet, also known as tinea (fungal infection) pedis (of the foot). This is also called athlete’s foot, but you don’t have to be an athlete to score this deal.

We all sweat, and sweat has odor. Foot sweat by itself can have a strong odor, but if your girlfriend’s socks pick up this odor in the washer, it is more likely to be caused by fungus. You said you don’t notice the odor, and she does. This is common. We adjust quickly to our own body odors and often don’t notice them, whereas others might.

There are “fungus among-us” everywhere. We don’t have as many in our dry climate as someone who lives in say, Florida, but we have plenty. Fungi (the plural form) live on and off people, and on gym mats, shower stalls, rotting logs and old food.

A fungus is a life form. It is closer to a plant than an animal, but rates its very own kingdom in the 5-kingdom taxonomy of life forms. Within the kingdom Fungi there are over 100,000 species. A few of these have a special affinity for human skin. They cause ringworm (not a worm at all), jock itch, diaper rash and athlete’s foot, among others.

The ideal habitat for certain fungi is somewhere dark, warm and wet. Shoes fit the bill perfectly. You might have even inherited your tinea along with your brother’s shoes. That’s one reason that, although I’m a big believer in recycled clothing, I don’t recommend buying used shoes (or underwear or hats for that matter). Your brother might have had his own case of resident fungus, which went on living quietly in the cracks of his shoes until your feet came along and spiced up the place, allowing the fungi to multiply and prosper. And reek.

So what to do? Basically, the approach to tinea pedis is two-pronged. First, slaughter the beasts. Second, clean up the neighborhood so their skuzzy relatives don’t move in.

Killing fungus is a fairly straightforward proposition. There are a variety of anti-fungal products available over the counter at any pharmacy. I believe the creams and ointments work on the skin better than the sprays or powders, because they stick to your skin better. The usual dose regimen is twice a day, after washing your feet. Please note: if the fungus has gotten under your toenails, making them yellow and thick, you will need medical help.

You can kill the fungi in your socks by washing them in hot water. Add bleach to whites. Do the same with your sheets. Oh, and your girlfriend’s socks. You can also spray bleach (a 10% solution in water is strong enough) on any mold or fungus you see growing in your shower.

Getting rid of fungus in shoes is much more difficult. Wash them if they’re washable. Spray them with antifungal spray and put antifungal powder in them. Best is to accept that you might have to get rid of them and shell out some dough for a new pair or two.

Keep your feet as cool and dry as possible. Change socks twice a day. Try a pair of super-absorbent odor eating inserts. Change shoes often, or go without when you can. Open shoes or sandals give your feet more air, and fresh air is poison to foot fungi.

Here’s something that might surprise you. You can have “fungus feet” with no odor at all. You know those foot and heel cracks that so many people have? We think it’s just desert dryness, but often it is really a type of fungal infection. After-shower treatment with a pumice stone and antifungal cream will clear those cracks right up. Make this a regular part of your routine and they’ll stay gone.

Having tinea pedis does not mean you are unhygienic or somehow bad. It’s just an infection. And in spite of her socks taking on your Eau de Foot aroma, your girlfriend is not likely to catch it, unless she starts wearing your brother’s shoes too. People are much more likely to get tinea from the gym than from their partner. Take the steps above and soon she’ll ditch the couch and be back in your fragrance-free bed.


Radha Krishnan said...

Dear Dr. Peg,

To solve the foot infection related problems like stinky feet, foot & heel cracks, etc., how about using Socks that can absorb & and evaporate sweat and prevent fungus formation?

In my company, after 3 years of Research & Development we have developed a Socks that exactly does the same. And the product has got good feedbacks. Even in some cases where the shoes start stinking, users' have given feed back that our socks has deodorized their shoes.


RadhaKrishnan. R

health watch center said...

Hi Peg Spencer,

A good topic to read...there are a lot of people have same problems with feet...and this post give interesting information for the one who wants to know about it...thanks for sharing...

Skin Care Beauty Zone

monash medical student said...

i thought the bacteria cannot really be removed from the skin once they have lodged in. they can only be controlled. no?

health watch center said...

Hi Peg Spencer,

How are you doing? Well I thought will find updates but you might be busy. Just wanted to say hi.

Ales said...

Hi, Peg
Would you like to exchange links with my website It has Page Rank 5.

All the best

Anonymous said...

Ales - Thanks for the invitation. I rarely blog here anymore. Got busy writing a book and writing articles.

Anonymous said...

I have the cure for your problem. Don't buy all the foot odor crap just purchase a bottle of rubbing alcohol or isopropyl alcohol. Every morning when you shower take a handful of alcohol and rub it on your feet. also buy new shoes and socks.

Another thing if your feet sweat a lot where two pair of socks. for awhile change your socks after 4-6 hours. With continual usage of alcohol with showering each day. Your foot odor will be eliminated guaranteed. after a week or 2 you will not have to change your socks twice a day but continue to wear two pair. An atheletic pair of thick white socks under a pair of black or colored.

Anonymous said...

Dear Dr. Peg,

I just had my ingrown toenail removed. Both this (big) toenail and one on my other foot have had a fungus infection previously. Since then the nails have been thick and curved at the edges, which often causes them to become ingrown.

My doctor advised me to throw away all my socks and hosiery because NOTHING would kill the fungus in them. I have to wear heavy duty, expensive support stockings because I have chronic edema in my legs. If I toss them, that's $35-55 a pair wasted! Many pairs are almost new. SURELY there's a better solution. I read here that washing in hot water will do the trick, but my doctor says that won't kill the fungus.

How do I know who is giving me the correct advice? I don't want to take any chances on another round of fungal infection!

Peg Spencer said...

Dear kf,

In my experience, socks can be cleaned, but shoes are the sticking point. You'll have to get rid of the shoes. It's nearly impossible to rid shoes of fungus.

Can you use bleach on your hose? If so, soaking them for 10 minutes in a 10% solution should kill the fungus. Be careful, though. Try it on an old pair first, in case of damage or color change.

Good luck!

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