Excessive Sweating: The Facts About Hyperhidrosis
Sweating is a normal bodily response to heat, humidity or physical activity. However, some sweat more than others, and may even find themselves frequently damp with perspiration for no obvious reason. If this happens to you often, you may have hyperhidrosis – a condition which causes excessive sweating. While it doesn’t usually pose a threat to your health, it can cause embarrassment and a lot of anxiety.
When is excessive sweating Hyperhidrosis?
There are no guidelines to tell you what amount of sweating is normal or abnormal, but if the amount you sweat interferes with your everyday life, you may have hyperhidrosis. Here are a few of the problems you might experience regularly if you have hyperhidrosis:
- Having to frequently shower and change your clothes because of sweat
- Having sweaty hands which make you feel self-conscious about shaking hands with others, or similar physical contact
- Difficulty holding tools, using a computer keyboard or driving
- Excessive sweating during exercise which makes you feel unable to get involved in physical activities – even gentle activity
What Causes Hyperhidrosis?
In most cases, there is no obvious cause of hyperhidrosis. In generally healthy people, it is thought to be a result of a problem with the part of the nervous system that controls sweating. However, it is unclear how such a problem develops. This is known as primary hyperhidrosis.
Secondary hyperhidrosis is excessive sweating triggered by another condition or aspect of lifestyle. For example, it can be a side effect of pregnancy, menopause, anxiety, low blood pressure, an overactive thyroid gland or certain medications.
What Lifestyle Changes Might Help Excessive Sweating?
There are some simple steps you can take that may help to reduce your sweating a little, or at least minimise any embarrassment. Try the following:
- Use antiperspirant frequently, rather than deodorant.
- Wear loose clothing made from natural fibres.
- Wear black or white clothing to make sweat patches less visible.
- Wear thick socks made of natural fibres that will absorb moisture. Some special sports socks are designed to do this.
- Wear shoes made of leather if you can, and try to alternate between different pairs of shoes every day.
- Try wearing armpit shields which can absorb excess sweat and protect your clothes.
- Avoid triggers that you know make your sweating worse. These might include drinking alcohol or eating spicy food, for example.
What are the Treatment Options?
If you have secondary hyperhidrosis, it can most likely be dealt with through treatment of the condition which is causing it. If you’re suffering from primary hyperhidrosis, there are a number of targeted treatments that may help.
The first form of treatment recommended by doctors will be over-the-counter antiperspirants. You can gets antiperspirants containing aluminium chloride from your nearest pharmacy, which you may find more effective than the ones you usually pick up in supermarkets or similar stores. Aluminium chloride works by plugging the sweat glands. Most often, this type of antiperspirant will have to be applied just before you go to sleep at night, then washed off in the morning.
Your GP might also prescribe an anticholinergic medicine, which will block the effects of the chemical in the nervous system that activates sweat glands. These are available as tablets or solutions that are applied to affected areas.
If the above treatments do not help, you may be referred to a dermatologist for further treatment. The dermatologist may suggest iontophoresis – a process of passing electrical current to the affected areas through water or a wet pad. This can help to block the sweat glands. Botox injections in the underarms, hands, feet or face can also help to reduce the amount of sweating experienced in these areas.
In some particularly extreme cases, patients undergo a type of surgery called endoscopic thoracic sympathectomy (ETS), usually used to treat the armpits or palms. This surgery involves cutting or clipping the nerves that control sweating in the affected areas so that they can no longer pass signals along to the sweat glands.
Hyperhidrosis is common. It can develop at any time and is usually a long-term condition, but some people experience an improvement with time, and there are plenty of treatment options available to keep the problem under control. If you’re struggling to deal with excessive sweating, book an appointment with your GP to explore what treatment options and lifestyle changes might be most effective for you.
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