Dear Dr Nina: My teenage son has extremely smelly feet

Q My teenage son has incredibly smelly feet. I have bought him 100pc-cotton socks and an anti-fungal powder for his shoes, but nothing seems to do the trick. He washes daily – spends hours in the shower – so it isn’t a hygiene issue. He doesn’t have athlete’s foot. Have you any suggestions on what could be causing this and what I could possibly do about it?

Dr Nina replies: Smelly feet can cause embarrassment to those who suffer and can be very unpleasant to be around. The smell is largely caused but the build-up of bacteria and fungus due the moisture and heat that occur when feet sweat. Some people are more prone to this than others.

Poor hygiene and inappropriate clothing and shoes are the main cause of bacteria build-up.

Basic hygiene helps. Wash the feet at least once a day using an antibacterial soap. Soaking feet for up to 20 minutes daily helps. Solutions using vinegar or tea tree oil have been suggested and may help reduce bacteria. Once the feet have been washed, dry them fully and carefully.

Applying an anti-athlete’s foot powder or spray will help prevent the build-up of fungus as the day goes on. If sweating is a particular problem, spraying with antiperspirant may help.

There are sprays specifically for feet, but the underarm ones work also. Keep nails short and clean as bacteria and fungus can build up here too.

Pitted keratolysis is a bacterial infection of the soles of the feet that can cause a particularly nasty odour. The affected sole becomes white with clusters of punched out pits. Keratolysis isn’t dangerous but can run a prolonged course. The pits may be uncomfortable when walking. This condition can be treated with topical antibiotics or occasionally erythromycin tablets. Your son may have this condition. Your GP can diagnose and treat this condition.

The best way to keep feet odour- and infection-free is to keep them cool, so going barefoot or wearing flip-flops or sandals when possible is a good idea. Pay attention to the choice of footwear. Never go sock free. Feet sweat more and then all the bacteria, dead skin and fungus just stays in shoes, causing more odour build-up. Socks should be made from cotton and may need to be changed more than once daily.

Shoes should be made from breathable material such as leather. Sharing footwear should be avoided. It is a good idea to alternate between pairs of shoes. Between wearings, open the shoes up and leave in a dry, well-ventilated environment, allowing each one to dry out before wearing it again.

It is thought one of the reasons men have smellier feet than women is that women tend to have more shoes and are less likely to wear the same damp pair several days in a row. Using anti-infective powders or sprays in your shoe may help reduce odours.

It is possible to buy shoe inserts that will help shoes stay dry but there are some simple home remedies. Cedar wood chips are supposed to help in drying and reducing odour. Another simple home remedy is to put some kitty litter in the leg of a pair of ladies nylon tights and put this inside the shoe. It’ll help dry them and remove any odour. Baking soda inserts may also help.

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