What Is Hyperhidrosis?
Hyperhidrosis disorder is a condition that causes excessive sweating. This sweating can occur in unusual situations, such as in cooler weather, and without a trigger. In some cases, it is caused by other medical conditions, such as menopause or hyperthyroidism.
If you have this condition, you may feel embarrassed or physically uncomfortable. However, several treatment options can provide some relief.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), about two to three percent of Americans suffer from primary focal hyperhidrosis, but fewer than 40 percent of those with the condition seek treatment (NIH, 2011). Talk your doctor about your symptoms.
Types of Hyperhidroses and Their Causes
Sweating is a natural response to certain conditions, such as warm weather, physical activity, or feelings of fear or anger. With hyperhidrosis, you sweat more than usual for no apparent reason. The underlying cause for this depends on which type of hyperhidrosis you have.
Primary Focal Hyperhidrosis
With this type, sweating mainly occurs on your feet, hands, face, head, and underarms. It usually starts in childhood. It might be hereditary, although the reasons for this are not fully understood. In most cases, the cause remains unknown.
Secondary Generalized Hyperhidrosis
Secondary generalized hyperhidrosis is sweating caused by a medical condition or as a side effect of certain medications. It generally starts in adulthood. With this type, you might sweat all over your body, or in just one area. You might also sweat while you are sleeping.
Conditions that can cause this type include:
- heart disease
- spinal cord injuries
- lung disease
- Parkinson’s disease
Several types of prescription and over-the-counter medications can cause hyperhidrosis as well. In many cases, the sweating is a rare side effect that most people do not experience. However, excessive sweating is a common side effect of antidepressants such as:
Patients taking pilocarpine for dry mouth or Zinc as a mineral dietary supplement
can also experience excessive sweating.
How to Tell If Sweating Is Normal or Excessive
You might not be sure if your sweating is normal or excessive. If you are concerned, the following factors can help you to decide if to see a doctor:
- you experience excessive sweating that has occurred for at least six months without an apparent reason
- your sweat occurs on both sides of your body in roughly the same amount
- you have incidents of excessive sweating at least once a week
- your sweating interferes with your daily activities
- you started sweating excessively when you were younger than 25 years old
- you do not sweat in your sleep
- you have a family history of hyperhidrosis
These factors might indicate that you have primary focal hyperhidrosis. You’ll need to see a doctor for a more accurate diagnosis.
Sweating all over or excessively in one area might indicate that you have secondary generalized hyperhidrosis. It’s important to see your doctor to find out the underlying cause.
Some conditions associated with excessive sweating can be serious. Make sure to let your doctor know if you are experiencing any other unusual symptoms along with sweating.
How Is It Diagnosed?
Your doctor will ask questions about your sweating, such as when and where it occurs. Your doctor will also perform certain tests, such as blood and urine tests, to determine if you have hyperhidrosis.
A starch-iodine test involves putting iodine on the sweaty area. Starch is sprinkled on this area when the iodine dries. If the starch turns dark blue, you have excess sweating.
A paper test involves putting a special kind of paper on the sweaty area. The paper is weighed after it absorbs your sweat. A heavier weight means you’ve sweated excessively.
Your doctor could also prescribe a thermoregulatory test. Similar to the starch-iodine test, this test uses a special powder that is sensitive to moisture. The powder is applied to your skin and the powder changes color in areas where there is excessive sweating. You may be asked to sit in a sauna or sweat cabinet for the test. If you have hyperhidrosis, it is likely that your palms will sweat more than expected while in the sweat cabinet.
Treatment Options for Excessive Sweating
Your doctor might prescribe an antiperspirant containing aluminum chloride. This antiperspirant is stronger than those available over-the-counter and is often used to treat mild cases of hyperhidrosis.
This procedure uses a device that delivers low-level electrical currents while you are submerged in water. The currents are often delivered to your hands, feet, or armpits to temporarily block your sweat glands.
Anticholinergic drugs can provide relief for generalized sweating. These drugs, such as glycopyrrolate, prevent acetylcholine from working. Acetylcholine is a chemical that helps stimulate your sweat glands. These drugs take about two weeks to work and might cause side effects such as constipation and dizziness.
Botox injections may be used to treat severe hyperhidrosis. They block the nerves that stimulate your sweat glands. You usually need several injections before this treatment becomes effective.
If you only have sweating in your armpits, a surgery might be able to treat your condition. One procedure involves removing the sweat glands in your armpits. Another option is to have an endoscopic thoracic sympathectomy. This involves severing the nerves that carry messages to your sweat glands.
You can also try to reduce sweating by:
- using over-the-counter antiperspirants on the affected area
- bathing daily to get rid of bacteria
- wearing shoes and socks made from natural materials
- letting your feet breathe
- changing your socks frequently
When Should I Worry?
Call your doctor if you experience sweating along with certain symptoms associated with serious illnesses. Symptoms include:
- sweating and weight loss
- sweating that mainly occurs while you sleep
- sweating with a fever, chest pain, shortness of breath, and a rapid heartbeat
- sweating and chest pain, or a feeling of pressure in the chest
- sweating that is prolonged and unexplained