While it is normal to sweat, excessive sweating can cause discomfort and embarrassment.
When sweating is not associated with exercise or heat, it is called hyperhidrosis. While frustrating, the condition is treatable.
So how do I know if I have hyperhidrosis?
Hyperhidrosis Is Not Harmful, But It Can Be Uncomfortable and Distressing
Interference with Daily Activities
If sweating affects your ability to perform normal activities, such as turn a doorknob or walk comfortably, you may have hyperhidrosis.
Typically, patients with hyperhidrosis visibly sweat even when they are not exerting themselves. Visible sweating may appear as sweat-soaked clothing or in beads of sweat on the forehead or other parts of the face.
Infections or Changes in Skin Appearance
Hyperhidrosis can often trigger skin problems such as bacteria or fungal infection. Excessive sweating can also cause skin to become soft and white or even peel in certain areas.
Family History Raises Your Chances for Excessive Sweating
Many patients with hyperhidrosis have a close family member who also have the condition. In addition, a variety of health conditions can increase your chance of developing the condition, including:
But why am I sweating so much?
The Cause of Hyperhidrosis Depends on the Type
Sweating is an automatic reaction triggered when your body temperature rises. Your nervous system sends signals to your sweat glands to help you cool down. There are typically two types of interference with this process:
The most common form of excessive sweating, primary hyperhidrosis occurs when the sweat glands produce sweat even when they haven’t been triggered. This condition has no known medical cause, though it may have a genetic component.
With secondary hyperhidrosis, excessive sweating is caused by a medical condition or medication and can affect your entire body. A variety of health issues can lead to hyperhidrosis, including infections, gout, and menopause.
"Many people who excessively sweat do not realize that they have a treatable medical condition… If you think you might be sweating too much, ask a board-certified dermatologist if it's normal. Dermatologists are one of the few doctors trained in the diagnosis and treatment of hyperhidrosis and can tell you what type of hyperhidrosis you have and the best ways to treat it.” Jenny Eileen Murase, MD, FAAD
While There Is No Way to Prevent Hyperhidrosis, You Can Manage the Condition
Choose the Right Product
Switching to an antiperspirant can help limit visible sweating. However, while deodorants limit the smell of sweat, they do not actually stop you from perspiring.
Wear Loose-Fitting Clothes
Certain materials are more breathable than others. Fabrics with looser weaves, such as linens, are cooler than those with tight weaves, like silk.
Certain activities or foods can trigger sweating or make your sweat smell worse. Avoiding spicy or strong-smelling foods can help you manage these symptoms.
A Dermatologist Can Diagnose Excessive Sweating
During your appointment, the dermatologist will ask about your symptoms and medical history. In addition to a physical exam, they may also perform a sweat test. During this noninvasive exam, they will coat the skin with a powder that turns purple wherever the skin is wet. This can determine the extent and severity of any sweating. If necessary, they may also conduct blood or urine tests to diagnosis underlying causes.
While not always necessary, a sweat test can pinpoint areas of perspiration.
The Best Treatment for You Depends on the Cause of Sweating
Typically, the first treatment dermatologists recommend for hyperhidrosis is an antiperspirant. This treatment works by blocking the sweat glands. If over-the-counter options have proven ineffective, your doctor may recommend a prescription antiperspirant
Sometimes referred to as “the no-sweat machine,” iontophoresis uses an electric current to ionize water. Patient submerge their hands and feet into water and the painless current relieves excessive sweating.
Botox can temporarily block the nerves which cause sweating. Typically, the effects of this treatment last between six and 12 months.
Your dermatologist may prescribe medication to temporarily prevent sweating such as anticholinergic drugs. These inhibit the nerve impulses that trigger sweating and take effect within two weeks.
In severe cases, a dermatologist may recommend surgery. For localized sweating, sweat gland removal can provide relief. Another common surgery recommended for hyperhidrosis is a sympathectomy, which prevents certain nerves from sending signals.