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Sweaty feet a common vexing problem

  • Dr. Monique Mitchell.

DR. MONIQUE MITCHELL

Published: Oct 01, 2013

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A common and vexing foot problem that is often not spoken of is sweaty feet. Have you ever shaken hands with, or touched the feet of a friend or family member and it was soaking wet?  Well, they may have hyperhidrosis, which is excessive sweating of the feet. It's slightly more common in men than in women, and more common in young adults than older adults. People whose feet sweat excessively often also have problems with excessive sweating of the palms. Hyperhidrosis can cause great emotional distress and occupational disability for many people. It is estimated to affect 0.6 to one percent of teenagers and as high as 2.8 percent of the population of the United States. Hyperhidrosis most commonly occurs among people 25 to 64 years of age, but some may develop it from early childhood or as teenagers.

Causes

Excessive sweating of the feet seems to be an inherited problem. No one knows exactly why it occurs but some experts claim it is caused by sympathetic overactivity.   It is a disorder of the sweat glands found under the arms, on the soles of the feet and palms of the hand. Most people sweat when it's hot outside, or when they become warm, nervous or excited. People with hyperhidrosis sweat excessively almost all the time. Hyperhidrosis can either be generalized on the whole body or localized to specific parts of the body. Hands, feet, armpits and the groin area are among the most common areas where hyperhidrosis occur due to the high concentration of sweat glands there. Hyperhidrosis may also occur in certain medical conditions such as disorders of the thyroid or pituitary glands, diabetes mellitus, tumors, gout, menopause, certain drugs or mercury poisoning.

Symptoms

The most obvious symptom of hyperhidrosis is feet that sweat excessively. Some people sweat so much that their feet may slip around inside their shoes. The feet may also have a whitish, wet appearance, and sometimes foot infections are present as well.  The constant wetness weakens the skin, allowing infection to set in. Foot odor is also common because of the foot infection.

At-home treatment for sweaty feet

Good foot hygiene practices are essential. Wash your feet daily with an antibacterial soap. Be sure to wash between the toes. Dry the feet thoroughly, then apply cornstarch, foot powder or an antifungal powder to your feet. Wear wicking socks that draw the moisture away from your feet instead of trapping it. Synthetic blends are designed to wick moisture away from the skin and work best to keep the feet dry. One hundred percent cotton socks should be avoided because even though they absorb moisture very well, they do not wick it away from the skin and can lead to blisters. It's also a good idea to change socks during the day when they become wet. Take an extra pair of socks to school or work, and change socks mid-way through the day.

When to visit a podiatrist

If your feet sweat excessively, see a podiatrist. According to the United States National Library of Medicine, less than 40 percent of people with excessive sweating actually seek medical care. If left untreated, sweaty feet can become smelly feet. A podiatrist can help you treat and control this embarrassing condition.

Diagnosis

Most often, excessive sweating of the feet is diagnosed based on your reporting of symptoms and a physical exam of the feet. A podiatrist can also do a starch-iodine test to confirm the diagnosis. Other tests may be ordered to rule out conditions that can lead to hyperhidrosis.

Treatment

Both topical and systemic medications have been used in the treatment of hyperhidrosis. Treatment options are tailored to your symptoms. Over-the-counter products (such as Certin-Dri and Xerac) have low concentration of prescription medication. They work best if applied to the area when dry and covered with plastic overnight. The feet should be washed in the morning and the effect should be seen within one month. If no effect is noted, see a podiatrist as soon as possible.

Prescription antiperspirants may be applied directly to the feet and are more effective than the over-the-counter versions. Botox injections can temporarily control excessive sweating of the feet which may generally last for about six to nine months.   A physical therapy technique called iontophoresis, which uses water to conduct a mild electrical current through the skin, has been found to be helpful for many people with sweaty feet. This can be done at the physical therapist or doctor’s office or persons may be able to purchase an iontophoresis machine for at-home use.

Severe cases of sweaty feet may be treated with a surgical procedure called a sympathectomy, which interrupts the nerve signals that tell the feet to sweat excessively. It has been used as a permanent effective treatment since 1920 but usually, it is reserved for the final treatment option. Sympathectomy involves the surgical destruction of the ganglia responsible for hyperhidrosis. Even subcutaneous liposuction has been used to remove the eccrine sweat glands responsible for axillary hyperhidrosis.

If you have been experiencing this embarrassing and challenging problem without relief, its time to see a podiatrist.

• For more information or to see a podiatrist, visit Bahamas Foot Centre Rosetta Street, telephone 325-2996; Bahamas Surgical Associates, Albury Lane, telephone 394-5820; or email us at foothealth242@gmail.com, or visit www.apma.org.


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