Sweating is a necessary part of life because it helps cool the body and prevents overheating. Exercise or exertion, a hot environment, nervousness, anxiousness, and stress are all factors that can cause sweating. But for 3% of Americans, excessive sweating happens even when the body has no need to cool itself. This disorder is called hyperhidrosis.
In addition to excessive sweat production, hyperhidrosis can disrupt normal daily activities and lead to anxiety or embarrassment for the sufferer. Students sometimes avoid raising a hand in class, teens often will not date and adults may hide perspiration stains by wearing layered clothes or changing frequently during the day, particularly in the case of armpit sweating.
Sweaty palms can be severe enough to keep a person from using everyday tools or playing an instrument and avoid jobs that include retail transactions or shaking hands.
While perhaps not as socially awkward, sweaty feet can cause other problems because feet become less stable as they slide around inside shoes, and excessive sweat can cause odor problems. It can also lead to athlete’s foot or other types of infection.
What Causes It?
Hyperhidrosis affects people of all races and age groups, and in both warm- and cool-climate living conditions. Dermatologists have learned that most people have one of the following:
- A family member who sweats excessively
- A medical condition like diabetes, heart disease or arthritis
- A side effect of certain medicines, food supplements or even certain smells
- Hot flashes during menopause
- Regular consumption of alcohol or caffeine
Before treatment begins, it’s important to diagnose why you sweat too much. A Riverchase dermatologist can provide a physical exam, paying particular attention to areas of concern, and will ask about your medical history, any medications you are taking and your family background to determine the cause. If an underlying medical condition is suspected, medical testing may be necessary.
Treatment considerations include the type of hyperhidrosis, its location on the body, the overall condition of your health, any medications you are taking and other factors. Effective treatments to control excessive sweating include:
- Antiperspirants: Look for clinical-strength antiperspirants, particularly those that have aluminum chloride as an ingredient. Antiperspirants work by plugging the sweat glands, which should signal to your body that it has released enough sweat. In addition to underarms, antiperspirants can be used on hands, feet or hairline.
- Iontophoresis (the “no-sweat machine”): If antiperspirants don’t work for you, this treatment offers a stronger solution. It is thought that the action of this machine deactivates sweat glands by passing a gentle electrical current through water to affected hands or feet. It may take several 10-20 minute treatments to work.
- Botulinum toxin injections (Botox®): This treatment consists of a series of injections to disable the sweat glands. Effects are temporary—generally lasting 4-9 months.
- Anticholinergic oral medications (Ditropan®). These medications are taken by mouth, inhibiting the part of the nervous system that triggers sweat production. Since side effects may be uncomfortable, causing fatigue and constipation, it is generally not prescribed as a long-term fix. It can be effective to treat excessive sweating of large areas of the body or when multiple areas are a concern.
- Endoscopic thoracic sympathectomy (ETS). Sympathectomy is a major surgery to stop the nerve signals from communicating to the sweat glands. To do this, the surgeon cuts or destroys certain nerves. As with all surgical procedures, a sympathectomy involves risk, and the results are permanent.
Excessive sweating can sometimes be managed on your own through relaxation activities like yoga and meditation to reduce stress, through weight loss or by limiting consumption of alcohol and caffeine. If you remain uncomfortable with hyperhidrosis, a Riverchase dermatologist can help.