Excess sweating (hyperhidrosis)

Tracey Sullivan Pharmacy Features Writer

Our body’s way of cooling us down when we get hot, stressed or after exercising is to sweat. Sweat is a weak, salty solution produced in sweat glands found all over the body but especially in the palms of our hands, soles of our feet and under the armpits. Our nervous system triggers the sweat glands in our skin to produce this fluid to cool our body. Sweat evaporates off the surface of our skin and provides a cooling effect. If the nervous system becomes overactive, sweat glands can be triggered to release fluid even without exercise, stress or increased temperature.

Excessive or uncontrolled sweating is called hyperhidrosis and can be quite embarrassing and distressing for the sufferer. The condition can affect people’s social lives and confidence and also result in annoying complications such as eczema and skin fungal infections. Excess sweating can happen because of a number of reasons such as the side effect of a medication you may be taking or from an underlying medical condition.

There are two types of hyperhidrosis – focal hyperhidrosis (where people tend to sweat only in certain areas of the body such as hands, armpits, feet and face and generalized hyperhidrosis (which happens usually due to a medical condition and in this case excess sweating occurs over the whole body).

There is quite a long list of medical conditions that can cause excess sweating, so it is definitely worth a trip to your GP to be checked out to rule out the following: low blood sugar, infection, thyroid disorder, diabetes, chronic anxiety, perimenopause/menopause, heart attack, nervous system disorder and some types of cancer. Obesity, spinal nerve damage and medications (such as alcohol, caffeine, some antidepressants, opioids and steroids) can also cause excess sweating.

Treatments for hyperhidrosis range from general self-help measures such as wearing loose fitting clothing, to surgery where the sweat glands are removed. Antiperspirants are often a great help in treating excess sweating and are the first line of treatment. These are different to deodorants which only disguise unpleasant smells and have no effect on decreasing perspiration. Anti-perspirants contain aluminium salts which actually decrease sweating. Carry a spare set of clothes to change into if needed, and wear non-synthetic fabrics such as silk and cotton which are more breathable than synthetic fabrics like nylon and polyester. Wear socks that absorb moisture and wear a different pair of shoes each day to make sure shoes are completely dry before wearing again. Foot powders can also be useful for sweaty feet and armpit or sweat shields will protect clothes. Try to avoid alcohol and spicy foods as these can make you sweat more. Use soap substitutes as these are gentler on skin.

Behaviour therapy and relaxation techniques can help to decrease anxiety that causes or adds to excessive sweating. There are some medicines such as antidepressants and nerve blockers that can decrease sweating. Botulinum toxin (Botox) is another medicine used (not just for smoothing out wrinkles!) as when it is injected around sweat glands it can decrease the amount of sweat produced. Botox blocks the chemical signals from the nerves that stimulate the sweat glands. If the glands receive no signal, then no sweat is produced. This is a very effective treatment and often one session is all that is required, and can last up to seven months.

Iontophoresis is a medical treatment where a mild electrical current is delivered to the affected area to stop sweat glands producing fluid. As previously mentioned, and as a last resort, surgery can be used to either sever the nerves to the sweat glands or completely remove them.

There are many levels of treatment for excessive sweating and it is important not to suffer in silence with this condition.

This blog provides general information and discussion about medicine, health and related subjects. The information contained in the blog and in any linked mate­ri­als, are not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice.

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