What is trench foot?

Immersion foot or trench foot is a medical condition that is caused by a long exposure of the feet to damp, cold and unsanitary conditions. It is called trench foot because it is very commonly associated with trench warfare, like the conditions of much of the fighting in World War 1.

What is happening when you have trench foot is your blood vessels are constricting, this is an attempt from the body to keep the feet warm by reducing the blood flow to them. Now, this also reduces the number of nutrients and oxygen that the feet are getting which may result in nerve and tissue damage.

Unlike frostbite, trench foot doesn’t need freezing temperatures to begin to take affect. In fact, trench foot can develop in temperatures up to 16 degrees Celsius. It can even affect people indoors, if the conditions are right. Any wet environment, like excessive sweating, wearing damp shoes or socks, can cause trench foot.

What are the symptoms?

Trench foot can affect any part of the foot, the heels, toes or the whole foot. The classic signs of trench foot to look out for are; white/grey coloured areas, swelling, cold to the touch, pain, a prickly feeling and a feeling of numbness.

In the early stages of trench foot, the blood vessels will constrict and this results in a lack of oxygen getting to the tissues of the foot. If this continues then you will likely see and feel the symptoms above. If the condition is allowed to progress any further, nerve and tissue damage can occur. The swelling of the feet will continue with a constant pins and needles feeling. In very extreme, and thankfully rare cases, ulcers and blisters develop, the skin will start to peel away and the tissues in your feet will begin to die, this will result in gangrene.

What are the treatments for trench foot?

It is vital to begin treatment of trench foot as quickly as possible in order to stop any permanent damage taking hold, some of the treatment options include:

1. Gently re-warming your feet: this will improve your circulation. You should warm your feet for about 5 minutes at a time, this can either be done using heat packs or by soaking them in warm water. Make sure to test the water first, as your feet are likely to be numb, you can burn yourself if you don’t do this.

2. Thoroughly clean and dry your feet: if you can not do treatment option 1 for any reason then try to keep your feet as dry as you can. This can be done by changing your socks regularly if you are in a situation where your feet are getting sweaty. You can also use anti-fungal dressings and try airing your feet out as often as you can.

3. Potassium Permanganate foot bath: this will help draw the fluid out of the affected area.

4. Amputation: in very severe cases of trench foot, when gangrene has set in, amputation is required.

If you think that you have trench foot then it is always a good idea to make an appointment with a foot specialist, they will be able to help you treat the condition before it gets any worse.