Excessive sweating is often discomforting and a hassle. Do you sweat more than other people and wondering why? Do you excessively sweat when you barely start walking or carrying out any physical activity within five minutes? Do you have the tendency of wiping your hands every time you want to shake hands with people? If your answer is "yes" to all questions, then you may have hyperhidrosis.
Hyperhidrosis is a medical term, which means excessive sweating. It is also called as sudorrhea or polyhidrosis. Hyperhidrosis is not considered as a life-threatening condition. However, it can be uncomfortable and may often cause embarrassment leading to psychological trauma. This particular condition usually starts in adolescence. In America alone, there are an estimated 8 million individuals who excessive sweating issues. The commonly affected areas of the body are the face, hands, feet, and armpits. Natural remedies can greatly help when it comes to reducing the symptoms.
In certain cases, hyperhidrosis can also be a warning sign of certain medical conditions such as diabetes, thyroid gland disorder, or an infection. Excessive sweating is also commonly observed in individuals who are overweight.
What is excessive sweating?
Sweating is a normal body mechanism. It plays a significant role when it comes to maintaining the body’s temperature. When people sweat, moisture evaporates and cools the body a bit. The amount of sweat can vary on each individual. Some people tend to easily sweat when compared to others.
Excessive sweating usually tends to go way beyond the normal physical need for sweating. When people have hyperhidrosis, they may heavily sweat for no reason. Certain areas in the body have high concentrations of sweat glands such as the groin, hands, armpits, and feet. For this reason, these areas are the most affected by excessive sweating. There are two categories of hyperhidrosis:
- Focal: This form of hyperhidrosis is characterized by localized excessive sweating such as palmoplantar hyperhidrosis, wherein there is excessive sweating in the palms of the hands and soles of the feet.
- Generalized: In generalized hyperhidrosis, excessive sweating tends to affect the entire body and not just specific areas of the body.
Hyperhidrosis may already be present from the time of birth or may develop later in the life, especially during the teenage years. Excessive sweating can also be due to certain underlying medical conditions or for no apparent reason at all.
- Primary Idiopathic Hyperhidrosis: In this type of hyperhidrosis, excessive sweating is limited to certain parts of the body and often with unknown causes. This condition does not cause any type of illness and people who have this type of hyperhidrosis are usually healthy.
- Secondary Hyperhidrosis: In this particular condition, the individual tends to profusely sweat due to certain health conditions such as gout, tumor, menopause, diabetes mellitus, obesity, or poisoning due to mercury.
In certain individuals, severe symptoms of hyperhidrosis can often cause embarrassment, which leads to discomfort and anxiety. It can also affect their free time activities, personal relationships, choice of career, emotional well-being, and self-image. Fortunately, there are a lot of options available to effectively manage the symptoms.
What are the symptoms of excessive sweating?
Hyperhidrosis or excessive sweating tends to often disrupt the normal routine activities of people. The episodes of excessive sweating usually occur at least once a week. It often affects an individual's social life and daily activities. The signs and symptoms of hyperhidrosis are:
- Frequent sweating issues
- Wet and clammy palms of the hands and soles of the feet
- Sweating that soaks through the clothing
Individuals may also experience the following:
- Being too self-conscious
- Irritating and sometimes painful skin problems, which can lead to fungal or bacterial infections
- Avoiding physical contact
- Worrying about body odor
- Social withdrawal, which leads to depression
- Worrying about clothes getting stained
- Spending too much time changing soaked clothes, wiping sweat all over the body, placing pads or napkins under the arms, wearing bulky and dark clothes, and constant washing
Experts are still uncertain about the causes of primary hyperhidrosis. However, secondary hyperhidrosis has a variety of known causes.
Before, it was common for people to think that primary hyperhidrosis was due to an individual’s emotional or mental status. It was assumed that excessive sweating occurred because of stress, nervousness, or anxiousness of an individuals. However, research says otherwise. In a recent research conducted, it showed that people with primary hyperhidrosis are not more prone to experiencing anxiety, stress, or nervousness than other people when they are exposed to similar triggers, but the other way around. It was found out that the anxiety and emotional feelings experienced by individuals are due to their excessive sweating.
According to studies, genetics also play a significant role in hyperhidrosis, which means that the condition is likely to be inherited. Most people with primary hyperhidrosis usually have a parent or sibling who has the same condition.
As previously mentioned, secondary hyperhidrosis has a variety of causes, which include:
- Spinal cord injury
- Respiratory failure
- Anxiety attack
- Alcohol abuse
- Heart problems
- Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid gland)
- Hodgkin’s disease
- Parkinson’s disease
- Certain viral infections such as malaria, tuberculosis, or HIV
- Substance or drug abuse
- The use of certain type of medications such as antidepressants, anticholinesterases in the case of Alzheimer’s disease, pilocarpine for treating glaucoma, or propranolol for hypertension (high blood pressure)
The doctor would first rule out other medical conditions such as thyroid issues, diabetes, or low blood sugar by ordering certain blood tests along with a urine analysis. The doctor may also ask questions about the patient's pattern of sweating, the most affected parts of the body, the frequency of sweating, and whether the patient sweats at night or while sleeping.
Below are a series of questions, which the doctor may use to help diagnose a patient's condition:
- Does hyperhidrosis affect your daily activities or job?
- Do you frequently carry anything around with you to deal with excessive sweating such as pads, towels, napkins, or antiperspirants?
- How often in a day do you wash your hands, take a shower, or bathe?
- How often in a day do you change your clothes?
- Does excessive sweating affect your behavior or mental state when you are in public or among other people such as friends or co-workers?
- Do you blame hyperhidrosis for losing any of your friends or close family members?
- In a day, how often do you think about excessive sweating?
Thermoregulatory Sweat Testing
In this particular test, a moisture-sensitive powder is applied to the skin. When an individual excessively sweats in room temperature, the powder changes its color. The individual is then exposed to an environment of very high heat and humidity in a sweat cabinet, which can trigger sweating in the entire body.
When an individual is exposed to heat, those who do not suffer from hyperhidrosis would not excessively sweat in the palms of their hands. However, people with hyperhidrosis would start to sweat excessively on the palms of their hands. This test would help the doctor determine the severity of the patient's condition.
To improve the symptoms of hyperhidrosis, individuals would need certain changes in their lifestyle and daily activities. Some of the changes may include:
- Wear the right clothes - Wear loose, cotton-made clothes and try to stay away from clothes made from synthetic fiber, which can include nylon, since they have the tendency to make the symptoms worse.
- Armpit shields - You can use armpit shields, which are pads worn on the armpit to prevent sweat from soaking into your clothes.
- Wear shoes made from natural materials - When it comes to shoes, make sure to choose natural materials such as leather and stay away from synthetic materials since they can worsen the condition.
- Use antiperspirants - Antiperspirants can help control sweating. Choose antiperspirants over deodorants since the latter cannot stop perspiration. Antiperspirants usually contain aluminum chloride, which can plug the sweat glands.
- Use absorbent socks - Wear socks that are good at absorbing moisture. You can use thick or soft materials, which are made from natural fibers.
If the above remedies cannot help control sweating in any way, then the doctor may refer you to a skin specialist or a dermatologist, who can suggest the following treatment options:
- Anticholinergic Medications: These drugs tend to hinder the transmission of parasympathetic nerve impulses. Patients who are taking these medications would see improvements in their symptoms in just about two weeks of use.
- Iontophoresis: In this particular therapy, the hands and feet are submerged in a bowl of water. A painless electric current is then passed through the water. This treatment is carried out for almost 20-30 minutes. In most of the cases, the patients would need at least 2-4 sessions to gain benefit from it.
- Botox Injections or Botulinum toxin: Botox injections are given to block the nerve that triggers the sweat glands. Patients who are suffering from hyperhidrosis would need to take several injections to get optimum results.
- Endoscopic Thoracic Sympathectomy or ETS: This particular treatment involves a surgical intervention, which is only recommended in patients with severe cases and those who have not responded to other forms of treatment. The nerves that carry the messages to the sweat glands are mostly cut.