10 things to know about hyperhidrosis, aka excessive sweating

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Most people look forward to the summer months when the warm weather finally hits. But if you have hyperhidrosis, you likely dread the heat, because you suffer from excessive sweating, and you sweat way too much all year ’round, no beach weather necessary.

When you’re a Very Sweaty Betty, it feels like anything can open up the flood gates, from eating a spicy meal to walking up a flight of stairs. Sweating head to toe is uncomfortable and often embarrassing, but the good news is, you’re not alone: An estimated 2%-3% of Americans suffer from hyperhidrosis, more commonly called “excessive sweating.”

If you think you might be among these heavy sweaters, here’s everything you need to know about the medical condition called hyperhidrosis.

HelloGiggles spoke with Robert Glatter M.D., Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital in NYC, to get the scoop on all things sweaty. He explained that this common problem actually has tons of treatment options, so you don’t have to suffer in sweaty silence forever.

1What is hyperhidrosis?

According to Glatter, hyperhidrosis is simply the medical term for excessive sweating or perspiration. He says “There are two distinct types: primary hyperhidrosis, contrasted with secondary hyperhidrosis which refers to sweating that occurs as a result of another medical issue or condition.” Some medical issues that contribute to secondary hyperhidrosis include menopause (i.e., hot flashes), diabetes mellitus, hyperthyroidism, and others.

2Why do we sweat anyway?

“Simply put, sweating is the way the body cools itself,” says Glatter. “This occurs by the process of evaporation of sweat as the ambient temperature rises.” This can happen when it’s hot outside or when you’re physically exerting yourself, but when you have hyperhidrosis, it also happens plenty of other times.

3How do I know if I have hyperhidrosis?

Basically, you’ll know if you find yourself sweating in situations where you don’t feel hot, such as sitting in a meeting or a casual stroll down the street. He says, “If you notice that you are sweating excessively in the absence of higher temperatures in places such as your hands, feet, and head, this may be an early sign of hyperhidrosis,” clarifying the two most common types of hyperhidrosis: axillary hyperhidrosis and palmoplantar hyperhidrosis.

“Axillary hyperhidrosis refers to excessive underarm swearing. Palmoplantar hyperhidrosis describes excessive sweating of the hands and feet.”

And if you’re one of the lucky ones to sweat from these places, you likely sweat from both armpits, hands, or feet. “People diagnosed with hyperhidrosis typically describe bilateral sweating…it is evenly distributed on both sides of the body, such as both underarms or both palms.” Lucky lucky, right?

4When does hyperhidrosis develop?

As if puberty isn’t rough enough, Glatter says that’s when your sweat glands tend to go into overdrive: “Patients with hyperhidrosis generally develop symptoms in their teens, in relation to onset of puberty, with many patients having frequent episodes during a typical week. Sweating that begins in the mid to late twenties often is secondary to another medical condition.”

It also tends to be genetic, so if one of your immediate family members suffers from the condition, that’s likely why you do, too. Thanks, fam.

5Does hyperhidrosis impact my health in any negative ways?

Glatter explains the ways in which excessive sweating could impact your health:

“Hyperhidrosis can lead to skin infections including folliculitis or cellulitis due to unevaporated sweat leading to conditions whereby bacteria can thrive. Poorly aerated regions of the body such as the underarms and feet can allow bacterial and fungal infections to spread rapidly if patients don’t practice good hygiene. Heat rash can also develop if pores become clogged.”

You can prevent this by wearing light, loose clothing made from natural fibers and changing into dry clothes as frequently as possible.

He adds that if hyperhidrosis goes untreated, patients offer suffer from depression or social anxiety, since “many feel isolated and then avoid social interaction…[it] may also cause social anxiety or embarrassment as [sufferers] may have to change their clothes multiple times throughout the day. Excessive sweating can also lead to unpleasant odors, but also make shaking hands problematic due to excessive moisture.”

6What about night sweats?

Unfortunately, it seems excessive sweating at night is often not limited to localized patterns like it is during the day ― so if you only have sweaty palms during the day, you won’t have them at night. Instead, you’ll sweat all over. Cool, right? *cue eye roll emoji here*

7What are some treatment methods for axillary (underarm) hyperhidrosis?

The good news is: There are *plenty* of ways to treat hyperhidrosis, depending on the severity of your case and your willingness/ability to undergo a medical procedure.

Unfortunately, your standard drugstore deodorant will do nothing to cure hyperhidrosis, but Glatter says you still have drugstore options available to you. “Antiperspirants with aluminum chloride may be quite helpful. If simple over-the-counter [antiperspirants] are helpful, prescription ones may even be more helpful. Skin irritation, stinging and burning may be common side effects.” You can check with your doctor about whether these products would be helpful for you.

If you’re looking for a stronger cure for axillary hyperhidrosis, Glatter recommends miraDry, a medical procedure that “uses microwave energy released from a handheld device to effectively kill sweat glands. The procedure selectively targets the sweat glands themselves without damaging other skin structures. By destroying the sweat glands, it helps to greatly control the odor as well.”

8What about other kinds of hyperhidrosis?

Turns out, there are multiple treatment options for those who have sweaty palms, feet, or on their forehead. “Botox may also be quite useful for treating hyperhidrosis, but its effects may only last several months, with the need for repeat injections. It’s most commonly used to treat the underarms, but also useful for palms, feet, and foreheads…This may reduce sweating by up to 80%, lasting 6-8 months in most cases.”

If you’re looking for an at-home treatment, Glatter recommends iontotophoresis, explaining that this procedure “employs electricity to reduce sweating, especially in the hands and feet. This procedure uses electrical current in a water bath to introduce ions to impede the sweat glands.”

9Are there any medications that help with excessive sweating?

Though less frequently treated with medication, Glatter explains there are options, too. “Anticholinergic medications can also be effective ― these include Cogentin, Robinul, Ditropan, but side effects including dry mouth, palpitations, and constipation may develop.”

10What about surgery?

If you’re willing to go under the knife, Glatter says, “Laser surgery is another option, killing sweat glands and thus eliminating the source. An incision is required, and a laser fiber is then inserted under the skin, heating the glands to destroy them. Minor swelling and bruising may result, but overall, this is a very effective procedure.”
Of course, as with any medical condition, procedure, or treatment, discussing with your primary care doctor or dermatologist is key, but know there is probably a solution for your sweaty woes available to you. Glatter emphasizes this, adding “It’s important to consider cost, down time, and side effects when selecting a treatment. It is best to discuss the best approach with your physician.”
If you’re struggling with this medical condition, know that you’re definitely not alone, and that it’s OK. There’s no shame in sweating because it’s a normal bodily function ― we all sweat, and some of us just do it more often. Live forth in all your sweaty glory!

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