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What Can I Do to Help Control My Sweaty Palms or Underarms?

Many effective treatments are now available for excessive sweating (hyperhidrosis)

Young girl with sweaty underarms that could be sign of hyperhidrosis.

Many effective treatments are now available for excessive sweating (hyperhidrosis)

Excessive sweating can be unsightly, uncomfortable and even downright embarrassing at times. Clothes gets stained. Undershirts need to be replaced. It can ruin your self-confidence in business and social settings and affect your quality of life.

The medical term for this condition is hyperhidrosis. It affects about three percent of the national population, according to the American Academy of Dermatologists.

“If you feel you sweat too much and that it is affecting your everyday life, you may have hyperhidrosis,” says Edward Ross, MD, a dermatologist at Scripps Clinic. “Unfortunately, many people are not aware that excessive sweating is a medical condition and that there are treatments available.”

What causes hyperhidrosis?

Sweating is a normal bodily function that helps regulate the body’s temperature. Changes in body temperature, outside temperature or emotional state can cause sweating.

We sweat when it’s hot outside or during a workout. We sweat when we run a fever or feel anxious, nervous or just stressed out. Medications and medical conditions other than hyperhidrosis can also cause sweating.

Sweating more than what is necessary to cool your body may be a sign of a different type of problem, however. It could be hyperhidrosis.

Signs and symptoms of excessive sweating

Treatment for hyperhidrosis depends on which of the two types you have.

Primary hyperhidrosis, also known as focal hyperhidrosis, is marked by excessive sweating in one or a few parts of the body — usually in the underarms, hands, feet or forehead. This type of hyperhidrosis may be hereditary.

Secondary hyperhidrosis causes excessive sweating in all areas of the body and usually means an underlying condition is causing the problem.

Medical conditions that can cause excessive sweating include:

  • Diabetes
  • Frostbite
  • Gout
  • Injury
  • Menopause
  • Obesity
  • Overactive thyroid
  • Tumor

Lifestyle changes to reduce excessive sweating

If an underlying condition is found, that condition will be treated first. If no clear cause is evident, treatment will aim to control excessive sweating.

Changes in daily activity or lifestyle may help improve symptoms. This may include wearing loose and light clothes or avoiding triggers, such as alcohol and spicy foods.

“You may need a better antiperspirant. If necessary, your doctor can prescribe a stronger antiperspirant,” Dr. Ross says.

Different types of clothing material may also help. “I recommend natural fibers, like cotton and wool. Synthetics tend not to breathe as well. Having a spare set of clothes may help and may also reduce anxiety,” says Dr. Ross.

Reducing stress can also make a difference.

“As we all know, sweat can be a function of nervousness. Anxiety may increase sweat production. Finding ways to relax is a good approach to breaking the cycle. This may include techniques for relaxation, such as mediation and breathing exercises,” Dr. Ross explains.

More advanced treatment options

Conventional treatment for excessive sweating dates back many decades. This includes over-the-counter and prescribed anti-perspirants and topical medications. Another is a therapy known as iontophoresis, where mild electricity is used to turn down sweat glands. It is known to work well on hands and feet.

During this treatment, the hands or feet are submerged in a bowl of tap water and a medical device sends a painless, low-voltage electric current that blocks the sweat glands temporarily. Follow-up treatments are necessary.

Non-surgical treatment

Medical and technological advances have led to more treatment options for hyperhidrosis, including new devices and products.

MiraDry, for example, is a medical device that uses electromagnetic technology to eliminate excessive armpit sweating without surgery. The device, which has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, uses a heating and cooling sequence to target underarm sweat and odor glands.

New topical medications include Qbrexza, a prescription cloth or wipe that is used to reduce excessive underarm sweating. The cloth contains a solution that blocks the chemical that triggers sweating.

Minimally invasive treatment

Surgery may be an option for people with severe hyperhidrosis that has not responded to other treatments.

Underarm surgeries include liposuction, during which sweat glands are removed by suction. In this procedure, a small cannula, which is a small metal straw like device, is inserted through a small incision. A to and fro motion is then applied by the physician to damage and remove the glands.

Why see a dermatologist?

“There are many causes for hyperhidrosis,” Dr. Ross says. “You may need to try several options before finding one that works for you, which is why it’s important to see an expert.”