A 37-year-old man from Zhangzhou, China, was recently admitted to hospital with chest pains and a cough, and was subsequently diagnosed with a severe pulmonary fungal infection. Otherwise known as “fungal pneumonia”, this potentially life-threatening lung condition is typically caused by the inhalation of spores and "opportunistic fungi," which in this case, doctors believe had been contracted after inhaling the spores of a fungus that usually grows in used footwear. It's thought that his proclivity for sniffing his dirty socks every day after work could have been the cause, according to media reports by ScienceAlert, the Daily Mail, and the New Straits Times.
So first of all, yes this is gross, but it's also unconfirmed. Because during the course of his medical examination the patient did admit he had a thing for smelling his sweaty socks, and doctors reportedly suspect that this dirty habit could have been responsible for the spread of the infection. But it's not entirely clear whether the link between Peng’s penchant for snock-sniffing and his illness was a correlation or a causation—and there doesn't seem to be any definitive conclusion one way or the other.
To find out we asked a professional—and they told us that while it might not happen easily, it’s “definitely possible.”
“That a guy in China who smelt his own smelly socks every day after work was found to have a lung infection actually doesn’t surprise me,” said Domenic Roscioli, a podiatrist with the Royal District Nursing Service in Australia. “I’ve seen it all.”
Dom points out that systemic fungal infections found in the lungs are usually caused by inhalation, and inhaling something like a foot fungus could most certainly be a cause .
“Just imagine sweaty feet, with a fungal infection, sitting inside a piece of material all day,” he said. “Imagine the amounts of bacteria that sock would soak up. And then he inhales that? Who knows how deeply and how long for. But it’s definitely not good for you.”
He also stresses that this fungal foot infection was what really caused problems for Peng, though—and that sniffing your sweaty socks alone wouldn’t necessarily carry any serious risks.
“I definitely think he had an infection on his foot, that was transferred onto his socks, that he was then inhaling,” he said. “I don’t think that just sniffing your smelly socks would create an infection in your lungs.”
But still, just don't.