Toe jam is a nonmedical, umbrella term that refers to the smelly gunk which can accumulate between toes. When feet are sweaty or not washed often, toe jam may be more likely to result.
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Luckily, this condition is usually not serious, and responds well to lifestyle changes. In some instances, however, toe jam may signal a medical complaint which requires fast action.
In this article, we’ll identify what causes toe jam. We’ll also tell you when a doctor, instead of at-home fixes, is needed.
Toe jam has many causes, including dry skin, and less-than-perfect hygiene. This condition is usually benign but in some instances, can cause serious complications.
Some causes of toe jam include:
Lint from socks. Socks can shed fibers, especially when they’re brand new. When these tiny pieces of fabric combine with sweat or body oil, they can become smelly if not washed off.Dirt. Walking barefoot in grass or on sand can leave deposits of dirt and soil between the toes.
Anyone can get toe jam, although some people are more susceptible to it than others. They include:
Athletes and gym buffs. Various areas within gyms can be breeding grounds for the fungi and bacteria that can cause toe jam. These include pools, steam rooms, shower stalls, and locker room floors. Athletes who exercise outside may also be susceptible, if they wear sweaty socks and sneakers for extended periods of time.People who don’t wash their feet regularly. Even if you shower daily, crud can accumulate between your toes if you don’t wash there. This can be particularly challenging for older individuals who don’t see well, or who can’t reach their toes easily. Others may have a hard time balancing on one foot while they scrub the other. Concerns about slipping in the shower can also make it hard for some people to wash their feet.People with poor vision. No matter what your age, it can be challenging to scrub away dirt and grime between the toes if you can’t see it well.People who wear poor-fitting shoes. Too-tight shoes that limit breathability cause feet to sweat.People who sweat excessively. Hyperhidrosis is a condition which causes excessive sweating of the feet. Some people with this condition also have very sweaty palms. This inherited condition is more common in men than in women.
People who live in certain climates. If you live in an extremely wet and hot climate, it can be challenging to keep your feet dry and free from sweat. If you’re very active, or spend lots of time standing, it may be even more difficult to avoid toe jam.
Some people are more prone to complications
Some groups of people may also be more prone to complications from toe jam than others. They include:
Keeping feet clean and dry is important for prevention of toe jam. Here’s a list of prevention tips:
Washing feet thoroughly with soap and water, at least twice daily, is the best way to prevent toe jam from accumulating. When washing isn’t possible, using an on-the-go wipe will do the trick. Make sure to use wipes meant for skin, not for household surfaces.Change your socks after exercising, especially if they’re wet. If sweat has soaked through to your sneakers, try to slip out of those as well.Corn starch or talcum powder can help keep feet dry. Some medicated talcs can also be used to treat toe jam.If you’re unable to wash or inspect your feet easily, enlist a family member, manicurist, or medical professional to examine your feet on a regular basis.
Home remedies and OTC products
If you have athlete’s foot, home remedies such as soaking your feet in a sea salt bath may help. Over-the-counter antifungal medications are also available for athlete’s foot and itching.
If the skin on your feet and between your toes is extremely dry or cracked, apply petroleum jelly and leave it on overnight. Make sure to wash your feet thoroughly with warm, but not hot water, in the morning.
Check your footwear for tightness, especially at the end of a long day. If your shoes are too tight, or cause your feet to sweat excessively, trade them in for a roomier pair.
When toe jam is the result of an underlying skin condition, treating the condition should help alleviate the problem. In some instances, your doctor may prescribe topical creams or other medications for you to take.
Any infection on the foot or between the toes should be examined by a doctor. This is particularly important for people with diabetes or with conditions of any kind that compromise the immune system.
Some signs of infection to look out for include:
redness or change in skin colorodoroozingswellingskin that feels warm to the touchred streaks near the ankle or up the leg
If you suspect you have hyperhidrosis, a doctor such as a podiatrist can recommend treatment options. These include applying antiperspirants to the feet, taking prescription medications, or getting Botox injections.
Your doctor can also provide medical advice for treating dry skin or skin conditions which might be at the root of the problem. Many medications are available that can reduce the symptoms of eczema and psoriasis.
Toe jam is a common foot malady that anyone can get.
Some people are more prone to toe jam than others. These include athletes who frequent gyms, and individuals who have difficulty washing their feet thoroughly and often.
Toe jam is usually harmless, and can typically be treated with lifestyle and hygiene changes. In some instances, however, this condition can lead to complications, such as infections.
See a doctor if you suspect you have an infection or an underlying condition that may be causing toe jam.
Last medically reviewed on July 1, 2020
Medically reviewed by Angela M. Bell, MD, FACP — Written by Corey Whelan on July 1, 2020