Excessive sweating is a condition that affects up to 3% of the American population, but the situation rarely warrants medical concern.
Most of the people affected have been dealing with it since early childhood, and consider it a ‘normal’ affair.
In normal conditions, the human body produces sweat as a counter to rising temperatures. When the sweat evaporates on the skin surface, the result is a cooling effect.
The body interprets any temperature increase as a cooling opportunity. So if a person is feeling frightened, anxious, or stressed, working out, or battling a fever, the body will still produce sweat.
But there are those 2-3% of the overall population whose sweat glands never shut off. These people are suffering from hyperhidrosis.
In some extreme circumstances, people suffering from hyperhidrosis experience profuse sweating while swimming, when completely stationary, and even in their sleep.
The cause of excessive sweat depends on the type of sweating.
Usually, excessive sweating is meaningless, but there are cases where hyperhidrosis could point to an underlying medical condition that requires immediate attention.
Types of Hyperhidrosis
Excessive sweating is categorized in two ways:
Primary or focal hyperhidrosis
This is the ‘milder’ version of the condition. It occurs during childhood. People who have it live relatively normal lives.
Sweating occurs specifically on the face, head, hands, armpits, and feet, sometimes without warning.
Secondary or generalized hyperhidrosis
This form of excessive sweating usually presents in adulthood. It happens as a side effect of taking certain medications or treatments. It could also be caused by a serious medical problem.
People with secondary hyperhidrosis sweat in one localized area or all over their bodies.
Causes of Primary Hyperhidrosis
If sweat glands had an on switch, then a person suffering from focal hyperhidrosis would be described as one with their switch permanently turned on.
Sweat that happens as a result of this condition comes from specific sweat glands known as the eccrine glands.
Eccrine glands form the majority of the 2-4 million sweat glands in the body. They are most pronounced around the armpits, face, palms, and feet.
What Really Happens During Focal Hyperhidrosis?
Whenever a person gets excited, has an increased heart rate, exercises, or experiences hormonal fluctuations, the nerves in the sweat glands become activated.
Hyperhidrosis is what happens when these nerves become over-activated.
In some instances, a person may begin sweating profusely just at the thought of an anxiety-inducing scenario.
There are no known or documented causes of focal hyperhidrosis, although current data points to genetics.
Complications Related to Excessive Sweating
Complications arising from excessive sweating can include minor skin problems. It can also cause a great deal of psychological distress.
For most people, social and emotional complications rank highest as a concern. Many people find it difficult to perform normal daily social functions when dealing with excess sweat. Some patients have admitted that the symptoms are nearly intolerable.
This refers to the softening and deterioration of the skin when it is exposed to constant moisture. The skin may eventually break down altogether, among other milder issues.
This is a fungal infection commonly referred to as “jock itch”. It occurs between the folds of the groin. Because heavy sweating facilitates an environment that is continuously moist, people suffering from hyperhidrosis are very susceptible to tinea cruris.
Similar to jock itch, athlete’s foot is another fungal infection that thrives in moist conditions, this time targeting human feet. Athlete's foot begins in between the toes, where excessive sweating may be the most severe.
The scientific term for body odor is bromhidrosis.
Contrary to popular opinion, sweat itself does not have a bad smell. That funk occurs after bacteria come into contact with the sweat.
Sweat that is most prone to foul odor is found in the armpits and the genital areas, followed by feet that are constantly (often tightly) enclosed within shoes.
Usually just cleaning and drying these areas should suffice, but for people with hyperhidrosis, it gets more complicated.
Warts and Bacterial Infections
Heavy sweating that results in both maceration and skin breakdown also allows bacteria and viruses that cause skin infections, including warts, an easier access point.
Other Possible Causes of Hyperhidrosis
- Diet – Eating foods high in spice or foods that have a thermic effect.
- Fitness Levels – People who are physically fit tend to have a higher metabolic rate. Conversely, people who are overweight also burn more energy to perform normal body functions. Both cases cause sweating.
- Gender – Men tend to sweat more than women. They also have greater sweat efficiency.
- Hormonal changes – Menopause, for example, can cause a spike in sweating.
Coping With Excess Sweating
There are some solutions available for people dealing with focal hyperhidrosis such as:
- Over-the-counter (OTC) prescription-strength antiperspirants with aluminum as an active ingredient.
- Anticholinergics, which are medications that inhibit nerve signals from transmitting to the sweat glands.
- A low-intensity electrical current treatment known as iontophoresis.
- Switching antidepressants prescribed for anxiety, which can be an underlying cause of hyperhidrosis.
- Repeated Botox injections directly into the armpits, targeting the sweat glands.
- Surgery, a solution reserved only for extreme cases.
Major surgical side effects include nerve damage, chest cavity bleeding, and excessive sweating in the rest of the body.
Causes of Secondary Hyperhidrosis
Sweating from secondary hyperhidrosis differs from that of primary hyperhidrosis.
Unlike primary hyperhidrosis, people with this type are more likely to experience sweating, even in sleep.
The causes, as outlined before, could be medication, illness, or both.
There are a number of known medical disorders with the potential to cause hyperhidrosis. Some of these include:
- Parkinson’s disease
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Other infections
Uncovering the underlying condition is the first and most critical step towards treating secondary hyperhidrosis. Always consult a medical practitioner first.
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