Some of my patients sweat excessively on a daily basis. They have a condition called hyperhidrosis. Even when they feel relatively cool and collected, they can get sweaty palms, face, underarms, or feet. This type of sweating can cause considerable embarrassment and distress. It can also cause some physical ailments such as dehydration and skin infections from persistently wet skin. So, I’d like to talk to you about this frustrating issue and share with you the same information I give my patients.
Types of Hyperhidrosis
Excessive sweating usually begins in teenage years or early adulthood (20-25) and can occur in both men and women. Unlike normal sweating, hyperhidrosis occurs spontaneously without seeming cause. There are two types of the condition which are characterized in the following ways:
1. Primary – can have an emotional trigger, with excessive sweating of:
- Facial/head – least common.
2. Secondary – associated with a medical condition like:
- Diabetes, overactive thyroid, hormonal imbalances
- Neurologic disorder
- Spinal cord injury
- Substance abuse (alcohol, drugs)
For those of you who experience excessive sweating, take heart. There are several treatment options available to bring it under control. Let me explain:
1. Topical antiperspirants: You know these as roll-on products available from the drugstore. These contain aluminum chloride and work by blocking the sweat glands under your armpits. There are a few over-the-counter antiperspirants that work effectively at decreasing the wetness which may work fine for you. However, there are several prescription antiperspirants that contain a stronger aluminum chloride mixture that your doctor can prescribe for you.
2. Iontopheresis: This method introduces an electrical current into the sweat glands to disrupt production of sweat. It is moderately successful and must be done frequently. It’s only side effects are some mild dryness or cracking of the skin, and some mild pain.
3. Medications: A class of medicine called anticholinergics is somewhat successful in treating the condition, but can involve side effects such as dry mouth, urinary retention, constipation, too slow or fast heart rates and/or blurry vision.
4. Botox injections: A fairly new treatment, Botox is injected into the skin to block sweat production. This method has the most success with armpit sweating. There is minor pain with the injections. Cost may be an issue as they have to be repeated every few months.
5. ETS: Endoscopic thoracic sympathectomy is one of the most successful methods of treating hyperhidrosis. The nerves on the sides of your chest are either cut or clamped which stops the production of sweat.
6. Alternative Methods:
- Herbal medicine: These include witch hazel for facial sweating; tincture of Burdock decreases excessive bodily fluids generally; tea tree oil, for foot sweating, is an antifungal which prevents skin infections in moist skin.
- Acupuncture: In Chinese medicine, the sweating mechanism is thought to be imbalanced causing you to over-sweat. A practitioner inserts hair-thin needles into certain meridians on the body attempting to re-balance this system.
Things You Can Do
Though excessive sweating may require a visit to your doctor, I like to offer my patients a few things they can do everyday to feel more comfortable:
- Wear natural fabric clothes like linen, cotton, wool that allow your skin to breathe. Avoid synthetics like polyester and nylon which are tightly woven and can become hot and restrictive and contribute to your sweating.
- Invest in good quality cotton armpit shields which absorb sweat before it shows on your clothes. These can be found in fabric stores in the notions department, and underwear sections of better clothes stores. Tailors may also carry these.
- Wear good quality socks made of 100% cotton that absorb moisture and keep your feet drier to avoid skin infections.
- Leather and canvas shoes are better than synthetic materials.
- Antiperspirant type deodorants containing aluminum chloride can be purchased without prescription at your local drugstore. There were rumors that aluminum-based antiperspirants contributed to breast cancer. However, the American Cancer Institute has definitively stated that aluminum chloride antiperspirants do not cause cancer.
- Avoid very hot, spicy foods as these can intensify body heat and sweating.
I know hyperhidrosis can be a challenging condition to live with, but as my patients have found, it can be treated successfully. You can live a normal, productive, socially active life and stop feeling self-conscious. If you feel you may have excessive sweating, please see your physician and perhaps try first some of the nonsurgical options listed here. If they don’t afford you enough relief, surgery may be more suited to your particular symptoms. Either way, you can control hyperhidrosis, stop worrying about sweating, and get back to enjoying your life!