Hyperhidrosis is a medical condition where a person experiences excessive sweating, despite the temperature being normal and despite lack of any rigorous physical activity, such as exercise or playing sports. In some individuals, this condition is so serious that the sweat actually drips off from their hands. The regions commonly affected by hyperhidrosis are underarms, palms of the hands and soles of the feet. Sweating of the complete body is rare in hyperhidrosis and could also be an indication of some underlying medical problem. Hyperhidrosis affects a person's quality of life and can be a source of great embarrassment and anxiety.
Treatment comprises of application of prescription-strength antiperspirants on the affected regions. For severe cases, surgery may be required where the sweat glands are removed or nerves which are responsible for overproduction of the sweat are disconnected.
Causes of Hyperhidrosis or Excessive Sweating
Sweating is a natural way for the body to cool itself. When the temperature of the body increases, the nervous system triggers the sweat glands to decrease the temperature via sweating. Sometimes, if a person is nervous, then he/she will experience sweating in the palms of the hands.
The cause of Hyperhidrosis or Excessive Sweating is overactive or overcharged nerves which are responsible for triggering the sweat glands resulting in production of more perspiration than is needed. Hyperhidrosis worsens if the patient is stressed or nervous.
Hyperhidrosis or Excessive Sweating which affects palms and soles tends to be hereditary. If there is excessive sweating in the entire body, then the cause could be some underlying medical condition such as:
- Use of certain medications.
- Hot flashes due to menopause.
- An overactive thyroid gland.
- Hypoglycemia or low blood sugar.
- Some types of cancer.
- If the patient is having a heart attack.
- Any infectious disease.
Symptoms of Hyperhidrosis or Excessive Sweating
Normally, sweating occurs when people are involved in rigorous physical activities, such as exercising or playing sports. Sweat is also produced when a person is in a hot environment, is anxious, nervous, or stressed. However, the sweating which a person suffering from hyperhidrosis has greatly exceeds the normal sweating produced during the activities mentioned above.
Hyperhidrosis or Excessive Sweating commonly affects the underarms, hands, feet, and sometimes the face. The complete body is rarely affected. This sweating can be so much that a person soaks through his/her clothes or the sweat can trickle off his/her hands. Patients with hyperhidrosis will have episodes of excessive sweating about once a week with no clear reason.
It's important to seek medical attention if the sweating affects the patient's quality of life, has increased suddenly or if the patient starts having night sweats for no obvious reason.
Investigations for Hyperhidrosis or Excessive Sweating
- Medical history and physical exam is conducted and the excessive sweating which the patient experiences is usually sufficient for diagnosis.
- Blood and urine tests are done to find out if any medical condition, such as hyperthyroidism or hypoglycemia, is responsible for this excessive sweating.
- Thermoregulatory sweat test is done where the patient's skin is dusted with a powder which changes color upon getting wet. The patient is placed in a room, which is heated to a comfortable temperature. After this, the patient enters a heating cabinet where his/her body's core temperature increases to 100.4 F (38 C). Majority of the patients who have hyperhidrosis sweat so much that the powder on their bodies changes color to purple, even before they have entered the heating cabinet.
Treatment for Hyperhidrosis or Excessive Sweating
Treatment depends on the severity of Hyperhidrosis or Excessive Sweating. Conservative treatment with medications is done first. If the patient does not benefit, then surgery may be required.
Medications for Hyperhidrosis or Excessive Sweating
- Strong prescription antiperspirants are used. These can cause irritation of the skin, so the patient should wash off the product in the morning.
- Oral pills which block nerve communication can help reduce the sweating in some individuals. Side effects are blurry vision, dry mouth and bladder problems.
- Botulinum toxin injections also block the communication between the nerves which trigger sweat glands. However, several injections are required for different parts of the body. These injections are also expensive and painful. The effect of these injections lasts for a few months only.
Surgical Procedures for Hyperhidrosis or Excessive Sweating
- Iontophoresis is a procedure where a low level electrical current is delivered to the affected region, while that affected region is submerged in water. This treatment needs to be done once daily for many weeks.
- Surgery for removing the sweat glands is done in severe cases and if the excessive sweating is localized only in the armpits.
- Nerve surgery is done in severe Hyperhidrosis where the spinal nerves, which control sweating in the hands, are cut, burned or clamped. Sometimes, there is excessive sweating in other regions of the body after this procedure.
Self-Care Measures for Hyperhidrosis or Excessive Sweating
- You should bathe daily to keep the bacteria on the skin under control.
- After bathing, dry your feet completely and apply OTC foot powders to absorb the sweat.
- Wear clothes, shoes, socks etc. made of natural materials so your skin can breathe.
- Change your shoes and socks daily.
- Take off your shoes from time to time to air them and try to go barefoot whenever possible.
- Relaxation techniques, such as meditation, yoga or biofeedback helps in controlling stress which in turn will help in controlling your perspiration.