03 Jan Excessive Sweating Causes – Why do I Sweat So Much?
Everybody sweats. It’s natural, it’s healthy and it’s just our body’s way of cooling itself down. For some, however, sweating can occur more regularly outside of the usual triggers of warm weather and exercise. This excessive sweating is called ‘hyperhidrosis’.
There’s no definitive amount as to how much is too much sweat, but hyperhidrosis sufferers know when it’s beyond the norm. Profuse sweating can interfere with everyday life – fear of shaking hands when meeting new people, not wearing certain coloured clothes to avoid obvious sweat patches and avoiding activities that might encourage excessive sweating.
What causes excessive sweating?
Our sympathetic nervous system regulates our body temperature by stimulating water secretion from our eccrine sweat glands, cooling the skin down through evaporation. Where this natural cooling process fails we can suffer from prickly heat or heat stroke, but hyperhidrosis is the reverse when these nerves become overactive causing excessive sweating.
There are two types of hyperhidrosis:
Primary hyperhidrosis can cause localised sweating from a particular area of the body or combination of areas, such as the hands, feet, underarms or face. Our hands and feet have the highest concentration of sweat glands purposely to keep the skin moist as it’s not easy to grip things with dry, chapped skin. With primary hyperhidrosis or focal hyperhidrosis as it’s also known, excessive sweating can occur from these specific areas without a trigger like hot weather or exercise and can interfere with everyday life.
Secondary hyperhidrosis is generalised excessive sweating of the body that can be caused by an underlying medical disorder or the side effects of medication.
Medical studies suggest that primary hyperhidrosis is a genetic disorder and be inherited from a family member.
What are the symptoms of excessive sweating and hyperhidrosis?
- Sweating from the palm of your hands
- Sweaty feet (primarily on the soles where the highest concentration of sweat glands are) and smelly shoes
- Sweating so much that you feel dehydrated
- Constant sweat patches on your clothing
How to manage excessive sweating
Hyperhidrosis sufferers can experience sweating on a day-to-day basis, however, it can be intensified by certain triggers:
- Heat and humidity
- Spicy food
- Emotional stress
If you’re sweating a lot, you can make some lifestyle changes to see if your level of the condition is manageable before seeking medical advice:
- Avoid triggers you’ve identified such as alcohol or spicy food
- Wear clothing made from lightweight natural fibers such as cotton to allow air to circulate around the body. Avoid tight fitting clothing and materials such as polyester or nylon
- Wear dark or light colored clothing that hides sweat patches
- Always wear socks to absorb sweat and prevent foul smelling shoes
- Use talcum powder on your feet to absorb sweat
How to stop sweating profusely
Sweating profusely can be a sign of an underlying medical condition (secondary hyperhidrosis). Seek medical advice to determine if this is the case and to undergo treatment to prevent sweating.
If you are diagnosed with primary hyperhydrosis then your doctor will likely try a variety of options to try to manage this:
- Antiperspirants – there are a range of over-the-counter antiperspirants that can be applied directly to the affected area. These are most commonly used on the underarms but can be applied to the hands, feet or back as required. For everyday use, clear solution roll-ons are best to avoid any white marks on contact with fabrics.
- Prescription antiperspirants – if over-the-counter antiperspirants don’t work for you then your doctor can prescribe antiperspirants that contain aluminium chloride. These are most effective when used for 6 – 8 hours so it’s best applied at night to clean dry skin and washed off the next morning.
- Oral medications – these can be prescribed by a doctor and may be more suited to those with generalised profuse sweating as it can target multiple areas that are affected. It does change the way your body regulates your temperature so can cause over-heating and may not be suited to those that exercise regularly.
- Botox injections – effective for treating armpits, face, hands and feet. Results vary from person to person and can last up to 6 months.
- Iontophoresis – involves running a weak electrical current through water with your hands or feet partially or fully submerged. It can also be used to treat armpits using special wet contact pads. Iontophoresis isn’t painful but can be a bit uncomfortable depending on the setting of the electrical current. It can be highly effective with regular use.
- Surgery – Endoscopic thoracic sympathectomy is a procedure used to treat sweating of the armpits and hands. It is performed under general anesthetic and involves cutting the sympathetic nerves that control the sweat glands. There are risks associated with the procedure and some find that increased sweating in other parts of the body to compensate for the inactive areas.