Excessive sweating, otherwise known as hyperhidrosis, is a common condition that causes the body to sweat more than what is usual. This can be determined by how much it impacts your life, for instance, if sweating is constantly interfering in your daily activities, you may be sweating more than normal and it may be hyperhidrosis. Hyperhidrosis can be characterised by sweating in certain areas of the body, particularly the hands and feet but it can occur all over the body.
There are many causes of hyperhidrosis, sometimes it’s simply due to genetics, or a problem with the sympathetic nervous system which controls your body temperature and sweating. In other cases, there may be an underlying condition that is causing you to sweat excessively, or it may be a side effect of some medication you’re taking. Your GP may be able to identify any underlying health issues and recommend treatment if necessary.
Dr. Diana Gall
Our Health Care Team
Sweating is a normal bodily function and we shouldn’t try to treat minor sweating. For some people though, sweating isn’t just a slight inconvenience, it can be so excessive that it interferes with normal daily activities and causes emotional distress. If this is the case, you may need to consider treatment to reduce the sweating. There are a number of medical treatments and at-home remedies to help with excessive sweating such as strong antiperspirants, however, it’s important to see your GP to rule out any other medical condition that may be causing you to sweat excessively.
What is excessive sweating?
Excessive sweating, otherwise known as hyperhidrosis disorder, is a common condition that can affect the entire body or just one area of the body such as the hands or feet. Sweating is a normal bodily function, however, with hyperhidrosis sweating occurs for no apparent reason and you may produce more sweat than usual. You may be sweating excessively even when you’re not in a hot environment or have no reason to sweat. Many people aren’t aware they have this condition so it may be more common than we think. With the right treatment, excessive sweating can be managed.
Why do we need to sweat?
The purpose of sweating is to regulate our body temperature. The temperature of the environment, your body temperature, and your emotional state can all bring on sweating. For instance, if you’re particularly stressed or anxious you may find you have sweaty palms.
We have sweat glands all over our body which produce a watery salty solution when you overheat to help you cool down. There are two types of sweat glands, eccrine and apocrine, apocrine sweat glands produce the strong odour that is associated with sweating.
What causes us to sweat?
There are many reasons why we sweat, one of the most common reasons sweating is brought on is because your body temperature is high, or the environmental temperature around you is high. High temperatures will prompt your body to start sweating in order to cool you down.
However, sweating isn’t always caused by temperature. Your emotional state can also cause you to sweat. Stress, anxiety, anger, and fear can cause the sweat glands to kick into action when stress hormones are released. Spicy foods, alcohol, some medications, menopause, or illness can all cause you to break out in a sweat.
What are the symptoms of hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating)?
Sweating is normal, however, when it becomes excessive and is interfering in your daily life you may have hyperhidrosis. Here are some signs that you may have hyperhidrosis:
- You’ve had excessive sweating for 6 months or more
- You experience excessive sweating at least once a week
- Sweating that is noticeable and soaks through your clothing - you may need to change your clothes frequently due to excessive sweat
- It occurs more than once a week, maybe even daily
- Sweating that stops you from doing your normal daily activities
As well as the above, you should see your GP if you’re experiencing the following:
- Nothing you’ve done yourself has helped such as using stronger antiperspirants
- The sweating happens during the night (night sweats)
- You have a family history of excessive sweating
- You have another condition that you’re taking medication for
What causes hyperhidrosis?
There are two types of hyperhidrosis, primary focal hyperhidrosis, and secondary generalised hyperhidrosis. Primary focal hyperhidrosis usually occurs in areas such as the hands, feet, underarms, face, and head. This type of hyperhidrosis is not caused by any medication or any other health condition, whereas secondary generalised hyperhidrosis can be a side effect of medication or caused by a condition such as menopause, problems with the adrenal gland, stroke, or heart disease. You may experience sweating all over the body and night sweats with secondary generalised hyperhidrosis.
It’s thought that hyperhidrosis may be genetic, particularly primary hyperhidrosis, so if a close family member such as a sibling or parent has hyperhidrosis it’s quite possible that you may also have the condition.
Other possible causes of hyperhidrosis include:
- Substances abuse - alcohol, drugs
- An injury to the spinal cord
- Heart disease
- An overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism)
- Some medications - propranolol for high blood pressure, antidepressants
All of these causes are more related to secondary hyperhidrosis rather than primary.
How is hyperhidrosis treated?
Treating the medical condition that may be causing hyperhidrosis may help to reduce excessive sweating. If there is no underlying cause, there are treatments available to try and control the sweating. Prescription medication can be given in the form of tablets, creams, and antiperspirants. Medications that block chemicals that stimulate the sweat glands may be used. Other treatment methods include botox injections under the armpits. The botulinum toxin is used to block the nerves that trigger the sweat glands, however, botox injections are only used in severe cases of hyperhidrosis.
Iontophoresis is another treatment method that involves delivering electric currents to the hands, feet, and armpits at a low voltage while these body parts are submerged in water. The purpose of this is to block the sweat glands temporarily. Iontophoresis is a safe procedure but you may need several sessions before you see results.
In severe cases when no other treatment has worked, there is the option of surgery to remove the sweat glands. Speak to your doctor about treatment options if you’re suffering from this condition.