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Everything You Need to Know about Hyperhidrosis

a woman showing her sweaty arms and experiencing bad odour

Hyperhidrosis

The condition in which there is overactivity of the body’s sweat glands is known as hyperhidrosis. This overacts by glands results in a lot of sweat, and that too at places and at times when other people will not even feel the sweat. At times, anxiety or a medical condition can also cause extreme sweating. A big challenge for many with hyperhidrosis is to control symptoms.

There are two types of hyperhidrosis:

Focal hyperhidrosis: This type of hyperhidrosis is a genetic skin disorder, i.e. comes from your family, starts before the age of 25 (start early), and is chronic in nature. The main cause is a genetic mutation (change in the genes). Also known as primary hyperhidrosis, it usually has an impact only on the head, feet and hands, and armpits. Ones who have very high sweating have focal hyperhidrosis.

Generalized hyperhidrosis: The condition in which higher sweating occurs due to other medical conditions is known as generalized hyperhidrosis. More sweating in one’s body than usual can be due to many health issues like Parkinson's disease and diabetes. As a side effect, some medicines can also result in excessive sweating (like zinc supplements and naproxen). Also known as secondary hyperhidrosis, it generally happens in adults.

This problem is not that common, but as per some findings, it is estimated that around 2-5% of the population has this issue, but this should be higher than this as people who have this problem of excessive sweating usually hesitate in talking about their symptoms and don’t even discuss this with their doctors. This makes it very difficult to have an accurate estimation of the number of people affected by this problem.

Causes of hyperhidrosis

When someone does exercise, is sick or nervous, a person becomes sweaty and when it gets hot, this is how a person’s body relaxes or cools itself. Usually, nerves signal our sweat glands to start acting. But in hyperhidrosis, these same sweat glands start working overtime without any apt reason, and that produces excessive sweat even when you don’t need it.

Causes of focal hyperhidrosis include stress or anxiety, some foods & odours (like chocolate, peanut butter, coffee, citric acid), spinal cord injury, or heat. Causes of secondary hyperhidrosis include infections (like tuberculosis), humidity, heat, & exercise, dysautonomia, menopause, some malignancies, severe stress (psychological), metabolic diseases like diabetes, hyperthyroidism, gout, and hypoglycemia, and some prescription drugs.

Symptoms of Hyperhidrosis

Its symptoms can differ widely in terms of extremity. Small symptoms might stay and flow for a long period of time, or extreme sweating can become a daily challenge (which becomes a big frustration, irritation, and insecurity). It affects many differently.

The sweat due to hyperhidrosis may collect around the back or at armpits, make your clothes soaked to a point where you might have to change them, drop on the forehead or cheeks, make your hands dripped down, or make your socks soaked.

This extreme sweating can also result in inflammation & itching (due to sweat irritating the area), body odour (when sweat gets mixed with skin bacteria), skin changes (pale skin or wrinkles), residue (due to chemicals, bacteria, and sweat getting combined), and maceration on feet soles (disintegrating skin).

Usually, symptoms give us a clue on which type of hyperhidrosis one has. High levels of sweating usually disturb both hands and both feet (both sides of the body) if it’s focal hyperhidrosis.

This type doesn’t have sweats at night and doesn’t get cured without treatment. Whereas the ones who have secondary hyperhidrosis might have sweating even when they sleep.

The body parts that are impacted in primary hyperhidrosis are the face (cheeks and forehead as well), lower back, armpits, genitals, palms of hands (undersides), and feet bottoms. Now the question is can it be cured? So, there is no cure for the primary type, you can only reduce the symptoms. Hence, the treatment for primary hyperhidrosis is mainly on improving the quality of life by reducing its effects or symptoms. For secondary hyperhidrosis, treatment depends on the basic problem. If the doctor identifies and treats the cause of higher sweating, extreme sweating can basically stop.

Treatment of hyperhidrosis

Usually, your doctor might refer you to a skin expert for its treatment, and might also ask how frequent is sweating, where is it occurring, and overall health. The doctor will start basically by recommending some medications or changes in lifestyle. Hyperhidrosis treatment can include:

  • Lifestyle changes: Modifications in some of your daily routine (like wearing breathable clothes, taking showers more often) might improve the symptoms. The doctor usually discusses all the possible options for you and will help you in deciding the best option for you.
  • Antiperspirants (Aluminium-based): These work by reducing the overaction of sweat glands that results in lower sweat produced by the body.
  • Oral medications: There are drugs (anticholinergic) that can make antiperspirants perform better. Their side effects could be problems in peeing or blurred vision.

Take Away

In summary, hyperhidrosis problems can be an irritating issue after a certain stage of life, hence should be diagnosed as soon as possible if someone sees the mentioned symptoms. The best way to treat it is to see your doctor and take the necessary treatment for it.