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Hyperhidrosis

When Sweat Takes Over Your Life

Sweating can be a serious, even life-altering problem for those that suffer from hyperhidrosis. A person that suffers from hyperhidrosis simply sweats too much and, in bad cases, cannot stop sweating.

The International Hyperhidrosis Society estimates that around three percent of the people in the world suffer from some form of excessive or uncontrolled sweating. The condition can affect any part of the body, including the face. Some people with it sweat all over, while others may see it confined to one part of the body.

The most common forms of the condition are axillary hyperhidrosis, which affects the underarms, and palmoplantar hyperhidrosis, which soaks the hands and feet with sweat. Axillary hyperhidrosis usually beings when a person is a teenager, while the palmoplantar variety can begin at any age.

Hyperhidrosis Can Destroy Lives

Even though it sounds trivial, hyperhidrosis can destroy lives. People that suffer from it might not be able to hold a job, go on a date, or wear certain kinds of clothing.

Persons with palmoplantar hyperhidrosis might not be able to shake hands or give somebody a high five. Sufferers often have to constantly change their clothing because it gets soaked. Those with axillary hyperhidrosis might have to stop wearing t-shirts or bright clothing.

Women with the condition might not be able to wear high heeled shoes because they slip off. Many people with the condition cannot even wear socks, because they get soaked.

The social effects of hyperhidrosis can range from the trivial, such as not being able to hold a cell phone, to the catastrophic. One man told the IHS that he was fired from a job he had held for four years because of the condition.

What Causes Hyperhidrosis?

The prevailing theory in the medical profession is that hyperhidrosis is caused by overactive sweat glands. Unfortunately, doctors do not know why the sweat glands start producing too much sweat.

The difference between hyperhidrosis and normal sweat is that normal sweating is usually triggered by heat or physical activity, such as exercise or heavy labor. Hyperhidrosis often occurs with no trigger; a person might start sweating heavily on a cold day or sweat heavily in bed at night.

Some cases of hyperhidrosis are caused by other medical conditions, but it can also afflict healthy people. The condition appears to run in some families, which indicates that it could be genetic.

Health problems and conditions that can cause hyperhidrosis include:

  • Damage to the brain and the neurological system, including strokes and spinal cord injuries.
  • Some mental health problems, including anxiety conditions.
  • Some forms of cancer.
  • Drugs, including some medications and street drugs that damage the brain.
  • Lung disease.
  • Heart disease.
  • Menopause
  • Some infections, including tuberculosis and malaria.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which can be caused by events like war, accidents, or violence.
  • Conditions that affect levels of glucose in the body.

These conditions might cause excessive sweating by damaging the mechanisms that control the sweat glands. They might also affect the body’s hormonal balance, which can affect the operation of the glands.

How Can You Tell If You Have Hyperhidrosis?

Even though its causes are poorly understood, hyperhidrosis is easy to diagnose. You can tell if you have it if you sweat too much for no reason. The most common symptom is excessive wetness, which may require a person to constantly change clothes. 

Some sufferers will sweat all the time, while others might have occasional attacks. Persons suffering from PTSD might start sweating excessively if they are reminded of a traumatic experience. For example, a war veteran might have a sweat attack if he hears a loud noise that reminds him of gunfire.

There are tests that doctors can use to detect excessive sweating, including the starch iodine test and the paper test. Generally, the starch iodine test is used to detect excessive sweating, while the paper test is used to measure the amount of sweat.

How Is Hyperhidrosis Treated?

There are several treatments for hyperhidrosis, some of which can be effective. Unfortunately, there is no effective cure for the condition despite years of research.

The first and most common treatment is the use of antiperspirants. An antiperspirant is a medication that is rubbed directly on sweaty skin. It suppresses sweat with a metal salt, usually aluminum. Over the counter antiperspirants, especially those that contain aluminum chloride, can be effective in mild cases of hyperhidrosis.

Something to keep in mind here is that deodorants are not antiperspirants; they only suppress odor. You will need to buy an antiperspirant. These products are widely sold under brand names such as Certain Dri and available at most drug and discount stores. These are usually applied at bedtime but are not very effective in cases of palmoplantar hyperhidrosis.

There are prescription strength antiperspirants available that contain a more potent metal salt called aluminum chloride hexahydrate. These will usually be the first treatment that a doctor will prescribe. The most popular prescription antiperspirant is Drysol, which can be a very effective treatment for axillary hyperhidrosis but not palmoplantar hyperhidrosis.

Other widely used treatments for hyperhidrosis include:

  • Botox injections. If you have ever wondered why celebrities like TV announcers, actors, singers, and models do not seem to sweat, it is because many of them get injections of botulinum toxin, or Botox-A. Botox-A has been proven to limit underarm sweating, so it is an effective treatment for axillary hyperhidrosis. The injections are painful, and they can leave scars.
  • Other prescriptions. Drugs like glycopyrrolate, marketed as Robinul, can reduce sweating by limiting the body’s water productions. Unfortunately, they have side effects like dry mouth and blurred vision. 
  • This unusual but effective treatment requires the use of water to conduct an electric current to the skin a few times week. Doctors are unsure why it works, but they think it blocks the sweat ducts. Regular treatment with a special device is necessary. 
  • In extreme cases, a surgical procedure called a sympathectomy is performed. The procedure involves cutting nerves in an attempt to shut off the sweat glands; it is risky but can be effective. In some cases, patients report that hyperhidrosis returns, usually to another part of the body such as the back. Generally, sympathectomy is only used when treatments fail. 

People turn to these treatments because it can be a real struggle to live with hyperhidrosis. If you have been diagnosed with the condition, the non-profit International Hyperhidrosis Society can help you locate medical treatment. The IHS also supports research in attempts to develop better treatments or a cure for the condition.

Even though it is not fatal, hyperhidrosis can destroy your quality of life. Effective medical treatment can help you reclaim your life from the condition.