Trench Foot: Symptoms, Treatment, Prevention

What Is Trench Foot/Immersion Foot Syndrome?

Trench foot, or immersion foot syndrome, is a serious condition that results from your feet being wet or in humid conditions for an extended amount of time. The condition first became known during World War I, when soldiers got trench foot from fighting in cold, wet conditions in trenches without the extra socks or boots to help keep their feet dry. You can use something to wick the moisture out of your boots like a top rated cooling towel.

Trench Foot or immersion foot is caused by prolonged exposure to wet and cold temperatures. It can occur at temperatures as high as 60°F if the feet are constantly wet. Non-freezing injuries occur because wet feet lose heat 25-times faster than dry feet. To prevent heat loss, the body constricts the blood vessels to shut down circulation in the feet. The skin tissue begins to die because of a lack of oxygen and nutrients and due to the buildup of toxic products.

Trench foot killed an estimated 2,000 American and 75,000 British soldiers during WWI.

Since the infamous outbreak of trench foot during WWI, there’s now more awareness about the benefits of keeping your feet dry. However, it’s still possible to get trench foot even today if your feet are exposed to cold and wet conditions for too long.

Keep reading to learn more about trench foot and what steps you can take to treat and prevent it.

Trench Foot Symptoms

With trench foot, you’ll notice some visible changes to your feet, such as:

  • Redness of the skin
  • Swelling
  • Numbness
  • Blisters
  • Blotchy skin
  • Skin tissue that dies and falls off

Additionally, trench foot can cause the following sensations in the feet:

  • Coldness
  • Heaviness
  • Numbness
  • Pain when exposed to heat
  • Persistent itching
  • Prickliness
  • Tingling

Trench Foot first aid

  • Call 911 immediately in an emergency; otherwise, seek medical assistance as soon as possible.
  • Remove the shoes, or boots, and wet socks.
  • Dry the feet as fast as possible.

Trench Foot Causes

Trench foot is caused by feet that get wet and don’t dry off properly. It’s also most common in temperatures of 30˚F to 40˚F. However, trench foot can even occur in desert climates. The key is how wet your feet get, and not necessarily how cold they are (unlike frostbite). Standing in wet socks and shoes for a long period of time tends to make it worse compared to other activities, such as swimming with water shoes.

With prolonged cold and wetness, your feet can lose circulation and nerve function. They are also deprived of the oxygen and nutrients that your blood normally provides. Sometimes the loss of nerve function can make other symptoms, such as pain, less noticeable.

Over time, trench foot can lead to complications if left untreated. These include:

  • Amputations
  • Severe blisters
  • An inability to walk on affected feet
  • Gangrene, or tissue loss
  • Permanent nerve damage
  • Ulcers

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