Trench Foot: The Causes and Healthy Prevention

Trench foot just sounds like a horrible condition, doesn’t it? There’s a good reason – it is horrible. Also known as “immersion foot,” trench foot can lead to devastating, life-altering consequences.

Here’s a look at what this condition is, what causes it, and some of the things you can do to help ensure you’ll never have to deal with it.

A Brief History of Trench Foot

So what is trench foot, exactly?

Well, it’s a condition that occurs when feet are damp and cold for an extended period of time. This leads to a reduction in blood circulation to the feet, which can lead to severe complications. The name “trench foot” actually comes from World War I, when trench warfare was common.

It’s a crazy statistic, but an estimated 75,000 British soldiers developed trench foot during the conflict.1 Many of them lost limbs, and many died as a result. These soldiers would often have to spend hours in cold, wet trenches without the opportunity to change their socks and shoes.

Trench Foot | DermalMedixWhile the condition is most closely associated with World War I, soldiers in World War II and the Korean War came down with the condition as well.2 The condition was referred to as “Jungle Rot” during the Vietnam War.3

Causes of Trench Foot

Anyone whose feet are exposed to damp, cold conditions for several hours at a time will be at risk of developing trench foot. You’ve no doubt noticed pruned skin on your toes and fingers after you’ve been swimming, or after you’ve taken a long bath or a shower. Now think about having damp feet for hours on end, especially in cold conditions, without being able to change your footwear, or put on a dry pair of socks.

While one of the main causes of trench foot is exposure to damp, cold conditions, the physical causes include a lack of blood circulation.

Having cold, wet feet, reduces the amount of oxygen and nutrients that can reach them. The result is not only skin changes but potential nerve damage as well.4

But trench foot doesn’t just occur in cold environments. It can develop no matter what the temperature may be. Anyone who has wet feet for hours on end will be at risk. In fact, having damp feet for even as little as a few hours can bring on symptoms.5

So, if you camp or hike you might be susceptible. Likewise, if you go to a festival and stand or walk on wet ground for hours on end, you could be at risk for trench foot.

What are the Symptoms of Trench Foot?

Now, there are several symptoms associated with this condition. For example, you might notice swelling of the feet, red blotches on the skin, or numbness. Your feet might feel heavy, and you might have a tingling or prickly sensation. You may even notice bleeding underneath the skin. In some instances, blisters develop, and your skin may begin to fall off. Gangrene can develop in severe cases, sometimes leading to amputation.6

Preventing Trench Foot

Trench Foot | DermalMedixIf all that sounds scary, it is. Trench foot is nothing to be taken lightly. If you develop this problem and don’t get it addressed as quickly as possible, the consequences could very well be devastating.

Be sure to take some common-sense precautions if you plan on being in any sort of damp environment for extended periods of time. Doing so can help you avoid trench foot. Here are a few tips that can go a long way toward preventing this horrible condition from happening to you.

  • If you’re going to be somewhere where you’re going to have damp feet, make sure your socks are clean and dry.
  • Pack plenty of spare socks so you can change them out frequently.
  • If you’ll be camping for a few days, try sleeping in your bare feet, if possible. This will allow them to air out and dry.
  • Use talcum powder on your feet to repel moisture.
  • You should also bring along a couple of extra pairs of shoes so that they can dry.7

The Bottom Line

As you can see, trench foot can be a horrible condition. It’s so horrible, in fact, that it can lead to severe consequences which can sometimes include amputation. The good news is that if you take some precautions if you plan to spend a lot of time outdoors, you will have a great chance of avoiding this situation. If you start to notice the signs of a problem with your feet, however, make sure you get medical attention as fast as possible.

Learn More:
What Is Athlete’s Foot? (and how to keep your feet healthy)
Why Are My Toenails Yellow? (and should I be concerned?)
How to Make Sure You Have a Safe Pedicure