Updated: May 31
Hyperhidrosis or excessive sweating, is embarrassing. It stains clothes, ruins romance and complicates business and social interactions. It is a medical condition in which a person sweats excessively and unpredictably. People with hyperhidrosis may sweat even when the temperature is cool or when they are at rest. It can occur without triggers. People with hyperhidrosis appear to have overactive sweat glands. The uncontrollable sweating can lead to significant discomfort, both physical and emotional.
When excessive sweating affects the hands, feet, and armpits, it is called primary or focal hyperhidrosis. In most cases, no cause can be found. It seems to run in families.
If the sweating occurs as a result of another medical condition, it is called secondary hyperhidrosis. The sweating may be all over the body or it may be in one area. Conditions that cause secondary hyperhidrosis include:
Certain medicines and substances of abuse
Glucose control disorders
Heart disease, such as heart attack
Pheochromocytoma (adrenal gland tumor)
Spinal cord injury
Tuberculosis or other infections
An estimated 2%-3% of Americans suffer from excessive sweating of the underarms or of the palms and soles of the feet (palmoplantar hyperhidrosis). Underarm problems tend to start in late adolescence, while palm and sole sweating often begins earlier, around age 13 (on the average). Untreated, these problems may continue throughout life.
What Causes Hyperhidrosis?
Although neurologic, endocrine, infectious, and other systemic diseases can sometimes cause hyperhidrosis, most cases occur in people who are otherwise healthy. Heat and emotions may trigger hyperhidrosis in some, but many who suffer from hyperhidrosis sweat nearly all their waking hours, regardless of their mood or the weather.
A wide range of common treatments for hyperhidrosis includes:
Antiperspirants. Excessive sweating may be controlled with strong antiperspirants, which plug the sweat ducts. Products containing 10% to 20% aluminum chloride hexahydrate are the first line of treatment for underarm sweating. Some people may be prescribed a product containing a higher dose of aluminum chloride, which is applied nightly onto the affected areas. Products like Sweatblock and Certain Dri can be used for this. Antiperspirants can cause skin irritation, and large doses of aluminum chloride can damage clothing. Note: Deodorants do not prevent sweating, but are helpful in reducing body odor.
Medicines. Medicines may prevent stimulation of sweat glands. These are prescribed for certain types of hyperhidrosis such as excessive sweating of the face. Medicines have side effects and are not right for everyone. You may look at Dermidry to help with this purpose.
Iontophoresis. This procedure uses electricity to temporarily turn off the sweat gland. It is most effective for sweating of the hands and feet. The hands or feet are placed into water, and then a gentle current of electricity is passed through it. The electricity is gradually increased until the person feels a light tingling sensation. The therapy lasts about 10 to 30 minutes and requires several sessions. Side effects, although rare, include skin cracking and blisters.
Botox. Botulinum toxin type A (Botox) is used to treat severe underarm, palmar, and plantar sweating. This condition is called primary axillary hyperhidrosis. Botulinum toxin injected into the underarm temporarily blocks the nerves that stimulate sweating. Side effects include injection-site pain and flu-like symptoms. Botox used for sweating of the palms can cause mild, but temporary weakness and intense pain.
Endoscopic thoracic sympathectomy (ETS). In severe cases, a minimally-invasive surgical procedure called sympathectomy may be recommended when other treatments do not work. The procedure cuts a nerve, turning off the signal that tells the body to sweat excessively. It is usually done on people whose palms sweat much more heavily than normal. It may also be used to treat extreme sweating of the face. ETS does not work as well for those with excessive armpit sweating.
Underarm surgery. This is surgery to remove the sweat glands in the armpits. Methods used include laser, curettage (scraping), excision (cutting), or liposuction. These procedures are done using local anesthesia.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
It would be best to see your physician if you experience sweating:
That is prolonged, excessive, and unexplained.
With or followed by chest pain or pressure.
With weight loss.
That occurs mostly during sleep.
With fever, weight loss, chest pain, shortness of breath, or a rapid, pounding heartbeat. These symptoms may be a sign of an underlying disease, such as overactive thyroid.