Last reviewed by Editorial Team on August 13th, 2018.
What is Trench Foot?
This is a medical condition that is also known as immersion foot and was a common illness for soldiers during World War 1. The reason it was so common during this time period is that the soldiers spend a lot of time standing in cold, wet trenches. It is a dangerous medical condition and during the wars of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries it caused millions of injuries and deaths. During World War 1 it caused many soldiers to lose limbs. It was first recorded as a widespread syndrome during the Napoleonic wars in the early eighteen hundreds in Europe. It can affect anyone of any age, gender, or race.
Trench Foot Symptoms
Two of the early signs that can indicate a person has trench foot are redness and numbness of their foot. This can also be accompanied with a tingling sensation and/or itching of the foot. You may also notice a blue discoloration to your skin which is an indication of a poor supply to your foot.
Other symptoms can include:
- A decaying odor from your foot
- Swelling, which is an indication that the condition is becoming worse
- The foot could feel dry
- It could look blotchy
- Be painful
- It could cause leg cramps
- The pulse in your foot could partially or completely cease
- You may see open sores and blisters on the foot which could indicate that the disease is at a severe stage.
- If the condition is not taken care of it can lead to gangrene and fungal infection.
The main cause of developing trench foot is standing in water and exposing their feet to cold, wet conditions for as little as eleven hours or longer. The reason that it was so rampant during World War 1 is that they soldiers did not have footwear that was waterproof. It can also happen anytime your feet are exposed to water for a long period of time that can include everything from excessive sweating to sea travel. It does not have to be wet footwear but can also be wet socks that are caused by excessive sweating.
When treating trench foot the main thing that you want to do is keep your feet dry. There are steps in which to treat trench foot, which include:
- If your feet are wet make sure that you clean your feet completely and let them dry.
- Change your socks each day so you are only wearing socks that are clean and dry. You should also not wear your socks when sleeping or resting. This is especially important for people who sweat a lot.
- If you start to see symptoms of trench foot or your feet are cold and wet you should soak them in warm water that ranges in temperature from one hundred two to one hundred ten degrees Fahrenheit for at least five minutes. After taking it out of the water make sure that you dry the foot completely, especially between your toes. If you do not want to soak them you can use a warm pack. Doing either of these will help to restore circulation to your foot. Just make sure that the water is not extremely hot as this can do more harm than good. You just want to warm your foot up.
- Elevate your feet to help reduce swelling
- When you have trench foot try to stay off the foot as much as possible, especially if there are open areas.
- If you have just the beginning symptoms of trench foot you should check your foot very closely to see if there are any wounds. You should do this once a day.
If you notice any symptoms of trench foot you should see your physician immediately to prevent it from spreading and cause long term damage or even loss of your foot. This is especially true if you have any ulcers or blisters that are infected to make sure that the infection does not spread. Make sure that if your feet become wet or you are sweating excessively causing your socks to become wet, change your socks and footwear immediately. Do not walk around for a long time before doing this as it can cause trench foot and the problems associated with this medical condition.
If you know you may be exposed to cold wet feet and/or socks such as going boating, fishing, on marches if you are a soldier, etc, have an extra pair of dry shoes and socks with you so you can change into them. You can also get special socks that will pull moisture away from your skin. When possible wear sandals or flip-flops to allow the sweat to evaporate from your skin, especially in hot conditions that could cause your feet to sweat.
If you are experiencing pain you can take over-the-counter pain medications or have your physician give you a prescription for a pain medication. Trench foot is treatable but it can be a long, slow, and painful process but it all depends on how serious the condition is. Remember that in order to prevent this medical condition you need to make sure that your feet are kept dry but if they become wet make sure that you get them dry as soon as possible. Do not just change your footwear and leave on your socks, even if they are just slightly damp. To avoid any serious problems see your physician immediately for treatment.