Although considered a “social annoyance,” sweat has an important biological role.
Sweating allows the body to release excess heat through a complex process of evaporation. Without sweat, the human body would have no cooling system, and this can be quite harmful.
Similarly, when people have to deal with sudden or continuous cases of unexplained and excessive sweating, it can affect their daily lives.
Close to 3% of the American population experiences bouts of excessive sweating. For the most part, however, the condition rarely requires medical attention.
There are many cosmetic and natural remedies to provide temporary or permanent relief for people with excessive sweating.
How to Identify Excessive Sweating
The scientific term used to describe excessive sweating is hyperhidrosis.
In America, between 2-3% of the whole population suffers from hyperhidrosis. The condition makes it impossible for sweat glands to regulate themselves normally.
Research has not found the exact cause for hyperhidrosis, but most experts find that people affected tend to have it in their family’s medical history.
Additionally, there are known medical treatments and certain illnesses that cause excessive sweating as a side effect.
Having hyperhidrosis can cause people a world of anxiety, but the condition is both manageable and treatable.
Doctors do not have an exact quality regarding what can be termed “too much” sweat.
However, when sweating begins to cause personal and professional problems in addition to elevating anxiety, it may be time to see a dermatologist or primary care physician.
Most cases of hyperhidrosis present at adolescence. People affected by it tend to sweat under their soles, armpits and on their palms.
Despite the condition, no other known health issues affect those who have primary hyperhidrosis in particular. They live normal lives and display no unique physical characteristics compared to those who sweat normally.
People who experience any form of hyperhidrosis often deal with effects like:
- A constant need to change clothes due to sweat, smells, and stains
- Needing to avoid shaking hands with people
- Discomfort at social gatherings due to embarrassment
- Issues with forming and maintaining social or romantic relationships
- Problems with dexterity caused by sweaty fingers
- Red, inflamed, pale, wrinkled, smelly or cracked skin as a result of constant wetness
Types of Hyperhidrosis
This is also known as focal hyperhidrosis.
People with this type of hyperhidrosis sweat excessively on their underarms, faces, feet, and hands, often without warning or outside cause, such as heat.
In simpler terms, if focal hyperhidrosis had a visible "on switch," the people who had it would be the ones who always had their switches turned up.
People affected by focal hyperhidrosis have overactive eccrine sweat glands.
This type of excessive sweating is also known as secondary hyperhidrosis.
This particular strain appears when people are already in adulthood.
Secondary hyperhidrosis is caused by sicknesses. It can also occur as a side effect of some medications and medical treatments.
People affected by this kind of hyperhidrosis can either sweat all over their bodies or in one general body surface area.
This type of sweating is so spontaneous that there have been documented cases of people excessively sweating while underwater, sitting down, or during their sleep.
Medical conditions causing secondary generalized hyperhidrosis include:
- Lung disease
- Parkinson’s disease
- HIV or tuberculosis
- Spinal cord injuries
- Cardiac diseases
- Disorders affecting the adrenal gland
Secondary generalized hyperhidrosis can only be addressed by uncovering the underlying medical condition and handling it directly.
Some prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications can cause this type of excessive sweating.
For example, excessive sweating can affect people using antidepressants like:
- Desipramined (Norpramin)
- Nortriptyline (Pamelor)
Excessive sweating is also a potential side effect for people taking zinc as a mineral dietary supplement, and patients using pilocarpine to treat cottonmouth.
When to Consult a Doctor About Sweating
Excessive sweating together with certain symptoms could point to a life-threatening condition. One should urgently consult a doctor if they start sweating in addition to:
- Rapid heartbeat
- Unexpected weight loss
- Lingering insomnia
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
Lifestyle Solutions to Manage Excessive Sweating
Properly aerated clothes can offer relief to a person dealing with a temporary case of generalized hyperhidrosis.
Breathable fabrics allow the body slight freedom. Wearing white or light-colored clothing helps as well. These types of clothes act as reflectors against sunlight.
By reducing exposure to excess heat, a person significantly manages their chances of sweating. Dark prints and patterns help with masking the appearance of sweat marks.
Layering can also help alleviate the appearance of sweat on outer garments.
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There are certain foods known to have a thermic effect on the body.
This means they make the body react in the same manner as it would on a hot day or while inside a sauna.
When people eat thermic foods, the body automatically attempts to cool things down by releasing sweating.
Examples of foods with a thermic effect include:
- Spicy food
- Caffeinated drinks
- Specific proteins
- Garlic and onions
- Processed, fatty foods
- High sugar and high-carb foods
Medical Solutions for Treating Hyperhidrosis
Primary care physicians are familiar with the symptoms related to both primary and secondary hyperhidrosis. They would be able to conduct the necessary diagnosis for confirmation.
However, dermatologists are usually more familiar with hyperhidrosis treatment, especially chronic or severe cases, given its classification as a skin condition. They are therefore ideal as the first point of contact when dealing with excessive sweating.
Examples of recommended treatments may include:
Over-the-counter (OTC) antiperspirants: These do not need a doctor’s prescription but can minimize symptoms, especially if applied to hands, feet, and armpits right before bedtime.
Prescription antiperspirants: Hyperhidrosis usually requires something stronger than OTC deodorants or antiperspirants. A physician will usually prescribe a higher-strength or chiefly aluminum, salt-based antiperspirant, which is effective in managing mild cases of excessive sweating.
There are more advanced treatments used to address extreme cases of hyperhidrosis:
This treatment utilizes low levels of electric currents administered to the affected area. During the treatment, patients’ hands or feet are submerged in a pool of water.
Iontophoresis can be highly successful, but frequent visits are required before results can be expected.
Scientifically referred to as Botulinum toxin type A injections, Botox is also used to handle extreme cases of sweat.
They are directed to the armpits, where they prevent the sweat glands from releasing sweat.
Botox injections also report a high success rate within the 90 percentile, after several visits. However, the procedure can be quite painful and sometimes people may need a local anesthetic in addition to the injection.
The miraDry System
This is the use of electromagnetic energy to entirely remove underarm sweat glands.
The miraDry System is not cleared by the FDA for use on any other body part.
The complete removal of armpit sweat glands is another last-resort treatment offered to patients with extreme hyperhidrosis.
Another surgical procedure known as an endoscopic thoracic sympathectomy severs the nerves which “communicate” to the sweat glands.
Surgical procedures can be quite effective, but they can have serious, life-changing side effects too.
Sweating happens all the time in our regular lives.
We strongly recommend expert medical advice as a top priority if anyone encounters sudden excessive sweating in addition to other symptoms outlined in this article.
There are, however, always solutions available to either decrease, eliminate or hide the effects of excessive sweating.
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