Excessive sweating, or hyperhidrosis, is a frustrating condition. It can be embarrassing, uncomfortable, and make you feel like your body is out of control.
Hyperhidrosis is a common problem. Experts estimate that in the United States, around 15.3 million people, or almost 5% of the population, live with the condition.
Sweating is a normal and essential process. It helps regulate your body temperature and eliminates toxins from your system. But when you sweat excessively, even when you're not in a hot environment or exercising, it may indicate an underlying issue.
But how do you know if your sweating is considered excessive? And when should you be concerned? Continue reading to learn more.
What is sweat?
Sweat is a liquid that the sweat glands in your skin produce. It's composed of water, electrolytes, and small amounts of urea and other waste products.
Two types of glands produce sweat:
- Eccrine sweat glands are located all over your body but are most concentrated in your palms, soles, and forehead. They open directly onto the skin's surface and secrete a clear, odorless liquid that's mostly water.
- Apocrine sweat glands open into the hair follicle, leading to the skin's surface. They're located in areas with abundant hair follicles, such as your underarms, scalp, and groin. They produce an oily fluid, rich in proteins and lipids. This type of sweat has a strong odor when mixed with bacteria on your skin.
The main function of sweat is to regulate your body temperature. When your internal body temperature rises because of exercise or the environment, the hypothalamus in your brain signals the sweat glands. They release sweat onto the skin's surface, which helps cool your body down as it evaporates.
You may also sweat when you're nervous, anxious, or under stress as the sympathetic nervous system, which controls the "fight-or-flight" response, also signals the sweat glands.
While sweating is a necessary process, some people sweat excessively even when they're a comfortable temperature and not exerting themselves. Doctors call this excessive sweating hyperhidrosis.
What is hyperhidrosis?
Hyperhidrosis, also known as polyhidrosis or sudorrhea is a condition that causes a person to sweat excessively. Generalized hyperhidrosis affects the entire body, while focal hyperhidrosis is limited to certain areas, such as the hands, feet, armpits, or groin.
For some people, hyperhidrosis is severe enough to affect their quality of life. It can interfere with daily activities and make maintaining social and professional relationships difficult.
Hyperhidrosis can also lead to skin problems, such as fungal infections, bacterial growth, and irritation.
What causes excessive sweating?
Some people may experience hyperhidrosis from birth or might develop it later in life, often during the teenage years.
The condition may have no apparent cause or be secondary to an underlying health condition, such as:
- Overactive thyroid gland(hyperthyroidism)
- Some cancers
- Heart attack
- Nervous system disorders
When should I be concerned about excessive sweating?
Anyone sweating excessively, feeling lightheaded, nauseous, and having chest pain must seek emergency medical attention. It could be a sign of a heart attack.
If excessive sweating disrupts your daily routine or causes emotional distress, make an appointment to see your doctor. You should also see them if you suddenly begin to sweat more than usual or experience night sweats for no apparent reason.
Your doctor can rule out any underlying medical conditions and provide treatment options.
Treatment options for excessive sweating
Treatment options for excessive sweating may depend on the severity. Sometimes, lifestyle changes, such as wearing loose-fitting clothes and using antiperspirants, may be enough to control the sweating. While in other cases, you may need prescription medication or surgery.
Some lifestyle changes that may help to control excessive sweating include:
- Wear loose-fitting, breathable clothes made of natural fibers, such as cotton and linen.
- Avoid tight clothing, such as skinny jeans, leggings, or cycling shorts. Also, avoid synthetic fibers, such as polyester and rayon.
- Wear socks and shoes made of breathable materials that allow your feet to air, or opt for sandals whenever possible.
- Try stress-relieving activities, such as yoga or meditation.
- Avoid spicy foods, hot drinks, and caffeine.
- Use an antiperspirant with aluminum chloride, which helps block the sweat glands' openings.
Your doctor may recommend one or a combination of the following:
- Antiperspirant. Prescription antiperspirants are stronger options, also containing aluminum chloride. However, they may cause skin irritation.
- Medicated cream. A prescription cream containing glycopyrrolate may help with hyperhidrosis affecting the face and head.
- Nerve-blocking medications. There are oral medications that block certain chemicals involved in nervous communication. They may reduce sweating, but there are side effects, including dry mouth, blurred vision, and urinary problems.
- Botulinum toxin injections. This toxin temporarily blocks the chemicals that stimulate the sweat glands. It works best for hyperhidrosis of the armpits. You'll receive a series of tiny injections into the skin of the underarms. When performed by a doctor, you'll have little pain or discomfort, and the effects last around 6 months.
Surgical and other procedures:
Other hyperhidrosis treatment options include:
- Microwave therapy. This involves delivering microwave energy to destroy sweat glands. You'll need two sessions of 30 minutes, 3 months apart. It can be uncomfortable and may be costly.
- Sweat gland surgery. If nothing else helps, surgery is an option. A surgeon can remove sweat glands in the armpits in a minimally invasive treatment.
- Nerve surgery. This surgical procedure may be an option if other treatments haven't worked. A surgeon will identify and cut or destroy the spinal nerve causing the sweating. However, it's a major surgery with associated risks. It can also trigger excessive sweating in other areas of the body.
Living with hyperhidrosis
Anyone living with hyperhidrosis should seek treatment to help them avoid complications and negative effects on their quality of life.
Hyperhidrosis can leave the skin and nails susceptible to fungal and bacterial infections. Some figures suggest that the risk of skin infections may be 300% greater if you have hyperhidrosis.
Beyond skin issues, 6 in 10 people with hyperhidrosis have reported negative impacts on their general and mental health. It can be socially isolating and embarrassing and may lead to anxiety and depression.
Talk to your doctor if you're struggling emotionally or physically with hyperhidrosis. They can help with treatments and refer you to a therapist or counselor who can help you deal with the challenges of this condition.