Excessive sweating can be unsightly, uncomfortable and at times downright embarrassing.
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 3 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 Carmel Valley. “Unfortunately, many people are not aware that excessive sweating is a medical condition and that treatments are available.”
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 other medical conditions can also cause sweating.
Sweating more than what is necessary to cool your body may be a sign of hyperhidrosis.
Treatment for hyperhidrosis depends on which of the two types you have.
Primary or 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 may be hereditary.
Secondary hyperhidrosis causes excessive sweating in all areas of the body and usually means an underlying condition is causing the problem.
Conditions that can cause excessive sweating include:
- Overactive thyroid
If an underlying condition is found, that condition will be treated first. If no clear cause is evident, treatment will focus on controlling excessive sweating.
Lifestyle changes that can help improve symptoms include wearing looser and lighter clothes and 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 can help. “I recommend natural fibers, like cotton and wool. Synthetics tend not to breathe as well. Having a spare set of clothes may also help 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 excessive sweating cycle. Techniques for relaxation may include mediation and breathing exercises,” Dr. Ross explains.
Conventional treatment for excessive sweating dates back many decades. Over-the-counter and prescribed antiperspirants and topical medications are part of this treatment option.
Another treatment is iontophoresis, where mild electricity is used to turn down the sweat glands. It 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 is used to send a painless, low-voltage electric current that temporarily blocks the sweat glands. Follow-up treatments are necessary.
Medical and technological advances have led to more treatment options for hyperhidrosis using devices and other products.
MiraDry, for example, is a medical device that uses electromagnetic technology to eliminate excessive armpit sweating without surgery. The FDA-approved device 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.
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, — a small metal straw like device — is inserted through a small incision. The physician applies a to and fro motion to remove the glands.
“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.”