Trench foot, also known as immersion foot, occurs when the feet are kept immersed in water for long periods of time. If left untreated, this condition can eventually lead to gangrene and in rare cases may require amputation. It is essential to recognize the signs of trench foot and take action early by keeping the feet as dry as possible and by periodically changing into dry socks and shoes when the feet become wet. Early signs of this condition are cold, numb, tingly,or abnormally discolored feet.
Trench foot is named for the World War I soldiers who suffered from this condition while forced to live and fight in water-filled trenches. This condition is typically now only found in people living in disaster conditions or lost hikers exposed to extreme weather. Whenever possible, the best way to prevent this condition is to be prepared. Aid workers in disaster areas, especially flood areas, need to wear well-sealed rubber boots and rotate socks frequently to prevent socks from becoming soaked with sweat. Survivors of disasters and lost hikers need to make ever effort to keep feet dry and warm.
A person in danger of developing immersion foot should first dry their feet, socks, and shoes and try to avoid getting the feet wet again. If this is not possible, he should rotate socks and shoes so that the feet are not exposed to a cold, wet environment for long periods of time. A person at risk for developing trench foot should also clean and dry the feet thoroughly before sleeping. When sleeping he should either wear dry socks, wrap the feet in dry clothes, or not wear any socks at all. During the night, every effort should be made to dry the socks and shoes that will be worn the next day.
If a person begins to develop this condition, he or she should get medical help immediately. Medical treatment will be to thoroughly clean and dry the feet. Warm compresses will then be applied to the damaged feet to encourage blood flow. Any infected blisters or ulcers should be treated by a doctor to prevent the spread of infection.
On rare occasions, people with hyperhidrosis, or overactive sweat glands, can suffer from mild trench foot. Excessive sweating of the feet can cause socks to become soaked so that the foot is kept constantly wet. This problem is typically treated by changing socks frequently during the day, wearing special socks that pull the moisture away from the skin, or wearing sandals without socks whenever possible to allow the sweat to evaporate.