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To better understand where odor comes from, and how to control it, it helps to know a little bit about sweat glands. Humans have two different types of sweat glands: the eccrine glands and the apocrine glands. Eccrine sweat glands are found in large numbers on the soles of the feet, the palms, the forehead, the cheeks, and in the armpits. These glands produce large volumes of watery, odorless sweat. Hyperhidrosis, or excessive sweating, affects the eccrine glands.
Apocrine glands are different. They are found in the armpits and genital region. They produce a thick, viscous, usually invisible fluid. When this fluid comes in contact with bacteria on the skin's surface, it produces a characteristic potent smell.
Interestingly, people who suffer from true hyperhidrosis, or excessive sweating, often do not have problems with body odor. This is because the large volume of sweat that their bodies produce comes from their eccrine glands and that sweat tends to wash away bacteria and apocrine sweat. Body odor can occur, however, if a person sweats sporadically and the sweat is allowed to dry on the skin. In this circumstance, apocrine sweat would have the opportunity to react with bacteria on the skin and produce odor. If you are experiencing an odor problem, with or without hyperhidrosis, the first step is to keep the body area in question dry. Antiperspirants, powders, and frequent clothing changes can help in this regard. The next step is to wash regularly with an antibacterial soap like Dial, Safeguard, or Zest. To mask odor, a deodorant may be helpful (many antiperspirants also include deodorants). Sometimes changes in diet can also help. If these methods do not work, consult a dermatologist or other medical professional.
If you are experiencing severe foot odor, wetness and the body's "regular" bacteria may not be the sole problems. Extreme foot odor is often caused by an overgrowth of a different type of bacteria. This bacteria particularly likes the warm, moist environment of the feet. To solve the problem, both the bacteria and the moisture must be addressed. To control moisture, change your shoes and socks frequently and use powders or antiperspirants as recommended above. If necessary, a dermatologist or podiatrist can help you find additional ways to control foot moisture.
To help control bacteria, wash with an antibacterial soap, and discard any moist, odoriferous shoes or socks. Additionally, it will most likely be necessary for you to see a physician, such as a dermatologist or podiatrist. He or she may prescribe a topical or oral antibiotic.
While foot odor can be embarrassing, it doesn't have to prevent you from kicking off your shoes and relaxing. Talk to a podiatrist, dermatologist, or another physician about your concerns and use the tips above to start managing foot odor. Healthier, happier feet may just be a few steps away.