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High-tech fitness trackers certainly encourage people to put their feet through the paces these days. But for those suffering from hyperhidrosis (or excessive sweating), peeling off sweaty socks without having engaged in any physical activity whatsoever is nothing to celebrate.
According to the International Hyperhidrosis Society (IHS), about 5 percent of people worldwide — that’s 367 million people — deal with issues related to extreme sweating.
Hyperhidrosis can mean you wind up producing much more sweat than what is typically associated with exercise or nervousness. Simply put, your sweat glands remain “on” for longer periods of time and don’t stop properly.
Those with plantar hyperhidrosis or sweaty feet, in particular, often find themselves contending with soggy footwear, athlete’s foot, nail fungus, or continual cold feet.
Pinpointing exactly what causes these bouts of extreme sweating continues to prove challenging for researchers, but there is possibly a hereditary connection. Typically hyperhidrosis manifests itself during childhood or adolescence, but it can occur at any age.
Some types of hyperhidrosis can be secondary, meaning that they are due to another cause. However, plantar hyperhidrosis usually is:
- idiopathic/primary, meaning there is no identifiable cause
- accompanied by excessive sweating on the palms
Rarely, some genetic syndromes can be a secondary cause for excessive sweating on the palms and soles.
If you’re concerned that your sweaty feet might be due to an undiagnosed, underlying condition, talk to your doctor.
When it comes to managing your sweaty feet, you need to formulate a solid game plan. Start by following the American Academy of Dermatology’s advice to keep a journal of how and when sweating episodes occur. This will help you identify triggers such as certain foods or situations that should be avoided.
Addressing plantar hyperhidrosis also involves going the extra mile when it comes to hygiene. Be sure to wash your feet daily, twice if necessary.
Whichever you prefer, be sure to dry your feet thoroughly, especially between the toes. Moist skin on the feet increase the risk of bacterial and fungal infections on the feet.
Dr. Suzanne Fuchs of LuxePodiatry suggests a short 20-minute soak in warm water with 3 to 4 tablespoons of baking soda.
She also recommends using black tea for soaks, due to the presence of tannins. These can help shrink pores, thereby reducing the flow of sweat. Simply swap out the baking soda for two bags of black tea and keep your feet under for an additional 10 minutes.
Hyperhidrosis on your feet places you at a higher risk of athlete’s foot, a fungal infection. Keeping your feet dry is essential to avoiding fungal infections on the feet.
Cornstarch is a commonly recommended powder that keeps feet dry. Zeasorb is a popular over-the-counter antifungal powder that many people find success with as well.
The IHS points to antiperspirants as a first line of treatment since they are inexpensive, easy to use, and not invasive. Sprays like Odaban and roll-ons such as Driclor work by temporarily plugging the glands and stopping the flow of sweat.
Apply them just before going to bed and wash off in the morning (at least 6 hours later). You sweat less at night, allowing for better antiperspirant block buildup. Please note: If you have sensitive skin, you may wish to check with your doctor before trying this approach.
Do not overlook your socks. Wool socks are especially good for ventilation, as are cotton. But be sure to avoid nylon socks, which will trap moisture and lead to sogginess. Change them more than once per day and take along an extra pair when you’re out.
When it comes to actual footwear, take a pass on the boots and the sport shoes, as they excel at trapping in moisture. Instead, settle on something a bit more breathable that employs canvas or leather.
Alternate the pairs you do wear to keep them all as dry as possible. Changeable absorbent insoles provide additional defense against odor. And whenever you’re able, kick your shoes (and socks) off and give your feet some fresh air.
Your doctor can prescribe oral medications, but side effects, such as dry mouth, are unfavorable in many.
Keep in mind that the results of all of the above suggestions vary depending on the individual. By and large, plantar hyperhidrosis doesn’t require a visit to the doctor, though that could be the next course of action if there’s no improvement.
Your doctor may ask about medications that might be making your sweating worse, or they’ll look for another cause if you have more generalized sweating accompanied by chills, weight changes, or other symptoms.