Sweating is a normal body function. It is your body’s way of regulating and maintaining your body temperature. But some people sweat excessively, sometimes four or five times more than what is considered normal, according to the International Hyperhidrosis Society. According to Harvard Health, between one and three percent of the U.S. population has hyperhidrosis, or excessive sweating.
What causes hyperhidrosis?
There are certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, gout, and thyroid problems, that can cause excessive sweating. It can also be a side effect of medication or a result of a tumor or an injury. Some women experience excessive sweating during heat flashes during menopause. These are examples of secondary hyperhidrosis, because the sweating is a result of some other cause.
If you have primary hyperhidrosis, there is a good chance that you also have a family member who sweats excessively, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). This type is often genetic. It might be that nerves that tell your body when to overreact. It often begins in childhood or adolescence, and many people have episodes at least once a week, but they do not sweat while they are asleep.
Areas ohe body affected by excessive sweating
If you have hyperhidrosis, you might experience sweating on a specific area of your body, such as your underarms, or you might sweat in a number of different areas. The most common areas of the body affected are:
- Palms of hands and feet
Most people experience sweating on more than one area; for example, those with sweating hands usually also have sweaty feet.
The effects of excessive sweating
Many people become embarrassed over their excessive sweating. It can affect their personal relationships and their motivation to exercise and participate in leisure activities. When your shirt is soaked with sweat, you feel uncomfortable and might shy away from being around people.
The AAD states that excessive sweating can cause problems in everyday life; for example, your palms may become so sweaty that you have difficulty turning a doorknob or using a computer. You might shy away from shaking someone’s hand in greeting. Underarm sweat can ruin clothing, not only causing embarrassment but costing you money to replace the clothing. Because your skin is often damp or wet, you can develop peeling skin or skin infections.
According to Harvard Health, the first line of treatment for people with excessive sweating is topical antiperspirants that contain 10-15 percent aluminum salts. There are some over-the-counter products, such as Certain Dri, that might help. However, there are also prescription-strength antiperspirants if you don’t find relief from over-the-counter brands. These antiperspirants plug the sweat ducts to cut down on the amount of sweating. They should be applied once or twice a week, at night. They can cause local irritation; starting with one application per week might help. Although most antiperspirants are made for use on the armpits, you can apply them to other parts of the body, such as the hands and feet, as well.
Botox injections have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to control severe underarm sweating. These only work for a limited time, and you will need to have Botox injections repeated every three to six months. Botox can control sweating in other areas of the body as well; however, you might experience muscle weakness.
Iontophoresis treatment uses a machine to send mild electrical currents through water. This is effective for sweaty palms and feet. According to Harvard Health, it is most effective if you have five to 10 initial sessions and then, depending on the severity of your sweating, have maintenance sessions weekly or monthly.
A more recent treatment is an electromagnetic energy device, called miraDry, that breaks down sweat glands in the armpits and can also eliminate odor-producing glands. A study published in the Journal of Cosmetic and Laser Therapy in 2013 found this treatment was effective for controlling sweat and odor. It is only approved for treating excessive sweating in the underarms. This can be expensive, with a single treatment sometimes costing around $2,000. The website hyperhidrosisnetwork.com lists the cost at between $2,500 and $3,000 for two treatments. According to that site, the treatment is not covered by health insurance.
There are two other types of treatment, but both of these have potential complications and are not considered first-line treatments:
Medications: Anticholinergic drugs work to prevent stimulation of the sweat glands. Side effects of these medications include confusion, trouble breathing, chest tightness, and memory loss, and have been linked to dementia.
Surgery: Your dermatologist can surgically remove some of your sweat glands. Some people experience loss of feeling in the underarm. A more extensive surgery, sympathectoemy, is used for excessive sweating on the palms. It can cause complications such as sweating on other parts of the body, such as the back, torso, or legs. According to the AAD, surgery is considered only if other treatments fail to work.
The American Academy of Dermatology offers these tips:
- Talk to a dermatologist and go over treatment options.
- Make sure you are using antiperspirant.
- Put on antiperspirant at night and let it dry before going to sleep.
- Keep a sweat journal (including activities/triggers, such as MSG, caffeine, hot sauce, spices, or alcohol).
For sweaty feet:
- Wear sandals as often as possible
- Wear shoes made of natural materials
- Take shoes off
- Avoid wearing the same shoe two days in a row to allow it to dry completely.
- Change socks daily
- Apply antiperspirant to your feet
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of Idiot's Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot's Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love and Essential Guide to Asperger's Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.