Learn what excessive sweating is and what you can do to prevent it.
Imagine this: You have just arrived to an important job interview that you’ve been preparing for months. You picked out the most stylish suit you could find at the mall. You practiced your answers to the most common interview questions in the mirror. And when you walk in eagerly to meet your potential future boss, you feel totally confident. Until you stick out your right hand to greet her and feel the moisture and sweat practically dripping off your palm. And what was that? Did she just wipe her hands off on her pant leg? “Why me?!” you ask yourself?
Excessive sweating, a fancy medical term referred to as hyperhidrosis, is not typically a serious medical condition, but it can be quite embarrassing for many patients.
Hyperhidrosis doesn’t just affect the hands. Patients also complain that they can’t lift their arms, for fear of exposing growing circles of sweat, and they’re tired of staining their clothing. Other patients have such sweaty feet that they need to change socks multiple times a day. So what exactly is excessive sweating and what can you do about it?
What Is Hyperhidrosis?
Hyperhidrosis is a condition that usually affects one or two parts of the body, such as the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, or underarms, and though it affects both sides of the body, it’s not usually found “all over” the body—so just because your feet are super sweaty doesn’t mean your face and back will be sweaty too.
This condition begins in childhood or adolescence and becomes a lifelong issue. It also tends to be genetic and runs in families. When it is excessive, my patients report that it really decreases their quality of life and it’s something they feel they really have to battle with at least once a week. It can be worsened in situations causing emotional stress and with heat, but not always.
What Causes Excessive Sweating?
Sweat glands coat the entire surface of the palms, soles, and underarms. They also exist on the face, chest, and back to a lesser degree. These glands help relieve the body of excessive heat and higher temperatures by releasing heat and fluid. Sweat glands can be stimulated by emotional stress—such as being super nervous for a job interview. In those with an excessive sweating disorder, that response is exaggerated. And this over-exaggeration is simply a genetic condition.
What Else Can Cause the Sweats?
If you are an excessive sweater, it’s important to make sure you have hyperhidrosis and not some other more serious condition. One important distinguishing factor is that hyperhidrosis does not affect the entire body and does not occur during sleep (only in the awakening hours). Here are a few other causes of excessive sweating:
Hormonal changes, like in hot flashes of menopause
Other very rare causes of excessive sweating include: tuberculosis, HIV, cancer, and nerve damage.
When to See Your Doctor About Excessive Sweating
So please seek medical attention if:
Over-the-counter antiperspirants do not help
The sweating is generalized, all over the body, and not just in one localized part
The sweating has developed since you have started a new medication
You are experiencing an associated cough or weight loss
The sweating seems concerning to you in any way
How to Treat Excessive Sweating?
So as long as your sweating really is hyperhidrosis, it’s nothing anything to lose sleep over healthwise. That said, I do realize that it can cause some significant social and professional distress. There are some treatment options available to help diminish the symptoms if the sweating causes a decrease in quality of life for you:
Antiperspirants: Antiperspirants with an aluminum ingredient will help to clog up those sweat glands, thereby decreasing sweat release. You can use this even on the soles and palms, in addition to the underarms.
Prescription Aluminum: If over-the-counter antiperspirants are not sufficient, there are several prescription alternatives containing aluminum components, such as DrySol or Xerac, that can be used nightly, and then gradually decreased to once a week applications.
Treat the Anxiety: In those with an emotional component, sometimes treating the anxiety with anti-anxiety medications or special types of blood pressure medications, called beta blockers, may help control the sweating.
Botox: Botox works to block the chemical release between nerve cells, and hence, decreases the production of sweat. However, Botox does wear off and is only temporary relief In addition, areas with sweat glands tend to be some of the more painful areas of the body to inject, and some patients find themselves unable to tolerate Botox injections at these sites.
So if you’re an excessive sweater, try not to, well, sweat it. There are treatments you can try that will help you lessen the embarrassment and get back on with your life.