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July 13th, 2011
12:03 PM ET

Why do my boyfriend's feet sweat?

Every weekday, a CNNHealth expert doctor answers a viewer question. On Wednesdays, it's Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer at the American Cancer Society.

Question asked by Juliet from Kansas

My boyfriend's feet sweat and burn profusely. He washes them and changes socks/shoes several times a day. He's tried every athlete's foot remedy at doctor's advice, and nothing works. What could this be? He's very clean, doesn't have bubbles or blisters or anything unbecoming on his feet. He even warms his feet in front of a stove before putting socks and shoes back on.

Expert answer:

Plantar hyperhidrosis is the medical term for excessively sweaty feet. It is a common problem and rarely linked to any underlying disease.

It can be a significant problem, interfering with a person's quality of life. Sweaty feet can become a breeding ground for bacteria and lead to significant foot odor as well as fungal skin infections that lead to a burning sensation of the feet.

The skin of the human foot can make more sweat per square inch than the skin of any other part of the body. This is because the skin of the foot has more sweat glands per square inch than the skin of any other body part.

Moisture accumulation is most commonly associated with heating of the foot and poor ventilation of the shoe. In addition, it is normal for dead skin cells to exfoliate or slough from the skin constantly.

The skin of the feet is no different from the skin of the rest of the body except that dead skin cells from the feet accumulate with sweat in a closed area. In this environment, fungi and bacteria that are usually present are able to grow and thrive. This overgrowth can lead to foul odors and burning.

Most foot fungi reside on the soles of the foot and between the toes. This is where one would expect most of the burning to be localized. Burning and itching of the feet is most likely due to skin infection with fungi.

This is more severe than the fungi simply being on the skin surface and is commonly referred to as athlete's foot or tinea pedis. The skin can look relatively normal to the untrained eye.

The patient might consider having a podiatrist verify the diagnosis. For many there will be benefit from weeks of treatment with a topical anti-fungal drug such as clotrimazole (sold under brand names including Cruex, Desenex and Lotrimin) or tolnaftate (whose brand names include Tinactin and Aftate). Some will need prescription oral anti-fungal agents such as ketoconazole (brand names Feoris and Nizoral) or griseofulvin (brand names Fulvicin-U/F, Grifulvin V and Gris-PEG).

Stinky feet are caused by overgrowth of bacteria. Interestingly, a skilled diagnostician can identify the type of bacteria from the smell. Cheesy smells are linked to specific types of bacteria, vinegarlike smells to others and rotten garbage smells to yet other bacteria.

Some people report that a change in diet, while not affecting sweating, can reduce foot odor. They recommend a diet lower in processed carbohydrates and higher in complex carbohydrates and higher in proteins.

Common measures should be taken to treat excessive sweating of the feet:

• Wash the feet daily with warm water and an antibacterial soap. Dry the feet thoroughly with a dry and soft cotton towel, especially between the toes.

• Use a shoe spray designed to reduce the smell and accumulation of bacteria and fungi. In severe cases, a trial of an underarm antiperspirant sprayed or applied to the feet is reasonable.

• Use foot powder to dry the feet.

• Wear thick socks, so they can absorb and wick away the moisture and help ventilate the feet.

• Use 100% cotton or 100% wool socks. Avoid, synthetic socks and stockings (polyester or nylon) as they can worsen the problem.

• Change socks several times a day.

• Wear shoes with adequate ventilation. Avoid plastic or nylon shoes. When not wearing shoes, let them air out in an area where dry air is circulating.

In patients who do not get enough benefit from the above, some podiatrists and dermatologists have used injection of onabotulinum toxin A, better known as Botox.

There are reports this therapy will reduce foot sweating from three months to a year before it needs to be repeated. Patients considering this therapy should have a good conversation with their doctors concerning the potential risks and benefits of this therapy.

The Food and Drug Administration has approved Botox for treating excessive sweating of the underarm but not for excessive sweating of the feet. Health insurance companies, therefore, may not pay for it.

Serious problems that can cause excessive sweating and burning of the feet include diabetes with diabetic neuropathy and peripheral vascular disease. A physician can easily exclude these diagnoses.


soundoff (65 Responses)
  1. gardengirl

    There is a wonderful product called Maxim deodorant which controlled my hyperhydrosis quickly. I bought it online and used it at night until the problem was gone, then every other day for a while. Now, 3 years + the sweating will come back occasionally, then I control with the Maxim again. Not as dibilitating as before. Good luck.

    July 13, 2011 at 12:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Me

    I wear white athletic socks underneath my nylon/cotton blend dress socks. I've noticed this helps to wick away the moisture better and make my shoes less stinky. If I only wear the nylon/cotton blend dress socks, I could probably ruin a pair of new dress shoes in a month. Also about every week or two, I'll put some baking soda in my shoes and shake it around and leave it over night. This also seems to help greatly and is cheap. Finally, in my personal opinion, heavy/moderate consumption of beer +2 drinks daily....will make your feet smell much worse if you tend to have sweaty feet anyway.

    July 13, 2011 at 12:51 | Report abuse | Reply
    • You

      If you gave your boyfriend the 2+ beers rather than drink them, the smell will not bother him and if he finishes a 12pack you may even get a toe licking out of it ... stop being a puss ... my dog will lick my feet for a good 5 minutes and need to pry him off sometimes ... if it dont bother "Max" (my pitbull) it shouldnt bother you .. haha

      July 13, 2011 at 19:29 | Report abuse |
  3. Jessi

    Drysol will do you a world of good. It is an Extra-strong perspirant to control excessive sweating of underarms, palms and soles of the feet. You need a doctor to see you and prescribe it to buy it in the U.S. but not in Canada. You can also find it on E-bay for under 40 bucks. The doctor has good advice but it's too much advice. Buy this product and you will not have any more problems. Please trust me.

    July 13, 2011 at 13:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. dangler

    What about guys with unbelievably stinky male equipment? That thing STINKS! It also has cheesy-looking stuff that increases as the day goes on. Any suggestions?

    July 13, 2011 at 13:58 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Me

      Wash it?

      July 13, 2011 at 15:30 | Report abuse |
    • Poodles

      Cut it off, sautee it with some butter, and garnish with pickles.

      July 13, 2011 at 16:58 | Report abuse |
    • D

      OMG.

      July 13, 2011 at 18:22 | Report abuse |
    • sean renner

      simply enjoy it

      July 13, 2011 at 21:48 | Report abuse |
  5. Mr Bill

    Sweaty feet is usually accompanied by sweaty palms. It's the same gene causing excessive sweating. Another gene causes excessive underarm sweating. Treatment options vary depending on the area. For hands and/or feet anti-perspirants, iontophoresis, and Botox are all options. For underarms, same options EXCEPT not iontophoresis. All this and more from the International Hyperhidrosis Society (non-profit) via http://www.SweatHelp.org. I've even signed up to get treated for free at one of their upcoming teaching seminars. Cheers!

    July 13, 2011 at 14:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Kristin

    SummerSoles absorbent shoe inserts work great, and you can get one pair for free with every purchase you make. It's on the International Hyperhidrosis Society's Deals and Discounts page. The discount code is: IHHS.
    @Mr Bill, maybe I'll see you at the upcoming seminar in September as I too am signed up to get the free treatment.

    July 13, 2011 at 15:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Poodles

    You should cut his feet off, and get him new ones on eBay.

    July 13, 2011 at 16:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. George

    Clorox plus Vick's vaporub. After bathing spray soles with undiluted household bleach for 1 minute then wash with water and dry. Apply Vick's over soles and between toes before wearing socks. Voila immediate solution for chronic problem courtesy of online foot blogs.

    July 13, 2011 at 18:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Steve

    I don't understand why men walk around the house in their socks picking up dirt and nastiness, stick them in their shoes, and then wonder why their feet stink and they keep itching. This also causes sweating from the irritation. The idea is to not walk around the house in one's socks, to use slippers or sandals instead when taking off one's shoes. The idea isn't to just change one's socks after they get filthy. Don't put dirty socks and feet into shoes to begin with. And keep the inside of the shoes clean, too. I think this is the reason why the excess sweat and itchiness occurs in many instances.

    July 13, 2011 at 18:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Tony Misita

    After washing and completely drying his feet, have him rub baby power all over his feet and between his toes. Also, pour baby powder in each sock before putting them on. This should help... : )

    July 13, 2011 at 21:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Kim

    Go to an acupuncturist. Chinese medicine can successfully treat excessive sweating.

    July 13, 2011 at 23:04 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.