Sweating is embarrassing and uncomfortable, but did you know it can also be dangerous to your health? Some people are more likely than others to sweat excessively, especially when exercising or under stress. Excessive sweating is referred to as hyperhidrosis, polyhidrosis or sudorrhea. This disorder can occur in individuals who are completely healthy in all other ways. Here’s what you need to know about the condition, how to tell if you have it, and when to seek treatment.
Types and Causes
There are two types of hyperhidrosis: primary and secondary. The first type has been linked to genetics and is characterized by excessive sweat that doesn’t have an identifiable underlying trigger. The second type is generally due to an underlying health condition or an identifiable trigger.
As mentioned, there is no known cause of primary hyperhidrosis, although it most likely has something to do with genetics. Secondary hyperhidrosis, on the other hand, may be caused by a variety of factors, including:
- Neurologic diseases
- Metabolic diseases
- Emotional imbalance
- Excessive heat
- Some medications, including those for high blood pressure, depression, Alzheimer’s disease and glaucoma.
- Some infections, including tuberculosis, HIV and malaria
- Respiratory failure
- Substance abuse
- Spinal cord injury
Sweat problems aren’t always limited to armpit sweat. You may notice excessive sweating in other areas of the body as well. When sweat is localized in one main area, the condition is called focal hyperhidrosis. When it affects the entire body, it’s called generalized hyperhidrosis.
Signs You May Have a Sweat Problem
For most people who develop sweating disorders, symptoms first show up during adolescence. Currently, the disease affects an estimated 7.8 people in the United States. If you think you may be one of these people, watch for common symptoms, including:
- Frequent sweating for no apparent reason
- Feet that frequently feel clammy or wet
- Wet or clammy palms
- Noticeable wet spots on clothing that may require frequent wardrobe changes throughout the day
People with sweating disorders have at least one episode of excessive sweating per week, with seemingly no cause. The problem can lead to a variety of emotional problems, including reluctance to make physical contact with others and excessive worry about stained clothing. It can also lead to bacterial and fungal infections that can cause the skin to become painful and itchy. In some cases, hyperhidrosis and other related conditions can cause depression and psychological trauma. Even if the disorder seems relatively harmless, it’s important to treat it for the sake of your emotional and psychological health.
Diagnosis and Treatment Options
To diagnose a disorder of the sweat glands, your doctor will first rule out other potential conditions that could be causing your symptoms, including low blood sugar and hyperthyroidism. If these are ruled out, your doctor will likely perform a thermoregulatory sweat test that will help the doctor analyze your body’s sweat patterns and determine the severity of your condition. He or she will also ask you some questions to determine how much your sweat problem affects your everyday life and your emotional or mental state.
If you are diagnosed with hyperhidrosis, there are a variety of treatment options available to you. Your doctor may recommend one or more of the following:
- Botox injections: These block the nerves responsible for triggering your sweat glands
- Anticholinergic drugs: Taking these drugs inhibits transmission of impulses to the parasympathetic nerves
- Iontophoresis: This treatment sends painless electric currents through the hands and feet to minimize sweat production
- Endoscopic thoracic sympathectomy (ETS): This is a surgical intervention that is reserved for only the most severe cases that don’t respond to less invasive treatments
Most people with hyperhidrosis wait up to nine years before seeking treatment. Why live with the embarrassment and discomfort of excessive sweat when relief is within reach? With just a few treatments, you could live a happier, more confident life.