Hyperhidrosis: The Science Behind Why You Sweat So Much
Sweating is good for you when your body needs it. When sweat evaporates from your skin, it cools you down and helps stabilize your body temperature. If you have hyperhidrosis, you're sweating more than your body actually needs you to. There is a range of causes, but often it runs in families. Thankfully, there are things you can do to counteract hyperhidrosis and keep the excess sweat at bay.
What Is Hyperhidrosis?
Hyperhidrosis is excessive sweating, and it affects an estimated 2 to 5 percent of people. While it can cause irritating and embarrassing experiences, hyperhidrosis can be treated. There are two types:
Focal hyperhidrosis, also known as primary hyperhidrosis, is excessive sweating triggered by eccrine sweat glands only. This causes the sweat to occur only in the palms, feet, armpits, and face. Focal hyperhidrosis is typically genetic and doesn't point to an underlying disease. Scientists aren't sure what causes it, which is why it's labeled an "idiopathic" condition. However, it's often triggered or exacerbated by stress and anxiety.
General hyperhidrosis, also called secondary hyperhidrosis, is excessive sweating that occurs throughout your entire body rather than in localized areas. It occurs as a symptom of an underlying medical condition, whether a disease or a normal event like menopause. It can also be a side effect of medication or a result of chronic alcoholism.
What Causes Excessive Sweating by Hyperhidrosis?
In people with hyperhidrosis, the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems responsible for telling the sweat glands to produce sweat aren't functioning properly. In effect, the sweat glands become oversensitive and overactive. There can be a number of causes for this:
- Hyperthyroidism — Hyperthyroidism is when your thyroid gland produces too much of the hormone thyroxine. It causes increased metabolism and often weight loss, as well as excessive sweating and irritability.
- Lymphoma — Lymphoma is cancer of the lymphatic system, which works like a sewage system for the immune system as it removes toxins from the body. Lymphoma cells produce chemicals that increase your core temperature and cause you to sweat excessively.
- Diabetes — Nerve damage can result from diabetes. If nerves responsible for communicating to sweat glands are damaged, it can cause hyperhidrosis.
- Neurologic and Nervous System Disorders — Body temperature regulation is deeply connected to other signaling pathways in the brain, and hyperhidrosis is sometimes caused by various neurologic and nervous system disorders.
- Menopause — A drop in estrogen levels during menopause makes your body more sensitive to even small temperature changes. If you have menopause, just a little exercise, heat, or humidity can trigger a hot flash that gets you sweating.
- Genetics — Sometimes, there's no found cause for hyperhidrosis other than overactive nerve signals running in the family.
These are some major tell-tale signs of hyperhidrosis:
The sweating can occur anywhere, but often sweat pools under the arms, at the feet, and in your palms. You may also get beads of sweat on your face that drips down. As a result of the sweating, you need to change your clothes often and may feel the need to shower more frequently.
Excessive sweating makes you more susceptible to body odor. Body odor occurs when bacteria on the skin mixes with sweat, diffusing the smell of the bacteria. While hyperhidrosis doesn't put you at risk for more odorous sweat, when you eat certain foods like garlic, it can cause smelly sweat.
Itching and Skin Problems
Chronic excessive sweating can irritate your skin, causing itchiness. Bacteria on the skin can infect it more easily, elevating the risk of toenail fungus and adverse skin conditions. Continual perspiration can chap the skin, causing it to appear cracked and scaly. Symptoms can vary widely, and it's best to see a dermatologist who can diagnose the skin's condition.
Is There a Cure for Hyperhidrosis?
Whether you can cure it depends on the cause of your general hyperhidrosis. General hyperhidrosis can be a temporary symptom in the case of menopause or anxiety, or it could be a chronic disease symptom to manage.
Focal hyperhidrosis sets on early in life, typically before the age of 25. Unfortunately, there's no cure for focal hyperhidrosis. There are options for treatment, including medicine and even surgery. Plus, it can be managed by learning what triggers your sweating, such as spicy foods, caffeine or stress.
How To Treat Hyperhidrosis
Hyperhidrosis can be approached through different medical treatment options. A doctor can help decide what treatment course is right for you.
Iontophoresis is non-invasive, as it involves submerging your hands and feet in a bowl of water for 20 to 30 minutes per treatment. An electric current goes through the water that painlessly stimulates the nervous system and may reverse or improve hyperhidrosis after eight sessions or more.
Botulinum toxin, also known as Botox, can inhibit nerves that trigger your sweat glands. In a study published in the Journal of Cutaneous and Aesthetic Surgery, Botox injections effectively reduced the sweat rate in people with focal hyperhidrosis both during rest and exercise. The injections must be repeated over time, but no adverse effects were found in the study.
Anticholinergic medicine blocks the sending of parasympathetic nerve impulses. These medications may cause unwanted side effects, but hyperhidrosis can improve within 2 weeks of treatment.
ETS (Endoscopic thoracic sympathectomy)
ETS surgery involves cutting the nerves that transmit signals to your sweat glands, and it's only recommended if no other treatments have worked.
Hyperhidrosis Causes and Treatments
If you have symptoms of hyperhidrosis, it's important to see your doctor to rule out underlying medical conditions that could be causing it. If other medical conditions have been ruled out, hyperhidrosis can be treated with Iontophoresis, Botox, certain medications, and even surgery. While there's no guaranteed cure, determining which type of hyperhidrosis you have and exploring the causes can point you toward the most accurate treatment.
It is also recommended to wear breathable clothing, use aluminum based antiperspirant, avoid spicy and highly processed foods, maintain a healthy diet with all your vitamins and minerals (check out MTS Immortal for an all-in-on daily vitamin pack), and staying properly hydrated.