Excessive Sweating: Causes, Treatment, and Prevention
While it may not seem like it as you’re regretting that decision to wear jeans on a hot summer day, sweating is, in fact, a very good thing -- an ingenious method for your body to regulate its own temperature. In other words, sweating protects you from the potentially life-threatening effects of overheating. But while it’s perfectly normal to be annoyed when your body’s well-intentioned attempts to protect you from heat stroke result in a pitted-out undershirt, 2%-3% of Americans are affected by a condition known as hyperhidrosis that goes far beyond the occasional swampy underwear situation.
Depending on the specifics of the condition, it can range from embarrassing, to potentially hazardous, or even in some cases as an indication of something far worse. If you’re experiencing extreme sweating of any kind, it’s vital for you to understand what’s happening, why it’s happening, and what you can do about it. Luckily, we already did the research so you don’t have to.
Let’s address the more serious potential underlying causes of excessive sweating, which could include thyroid issues, a diabetes-induced blood sugar imbalance, extreme fever, or any other number of serious conditions. Now, the good news for people who tend to anxiously self-diagnose is that it’s very unlikely excessive sweating would be the only symptom you’d experience, but if you’re experiencing high fever, nausea, chills, lightheadedness, or chest pain along with sweating, please stop reading this blog and see a doctor to be sure the cause isn’t something immediate and/or life-threatening. And even if you don’t have any of those other co-symptoms, if your sweating is suddenly much heavier than ever before, or only occurring in your sleep, it’s a good idea to consult your doctor about those issues too.
Now that we’ve gotten any potential emergencies out of the way, a little background on the less dangerous form of hyperhidrosis, also known as primary hyperhidrosis- in other words, hyperhidrosis that’s not caused by a more serious condition. Primary hyperhidrosis tends to occur in localized areas under the arms, in the groin, on the face, and/or on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet- the areas where human beings have the most sweat glands. While triggers can include anxiety and excitement (in addition to the same heat and overexertion factors that cause sweating in just about everyone), the condition is still not completely medically understood.
For cases of primary hyperhidrosis, doctors usually suggest a prescription-strength antiperspirant containing aluminum chloralhydrate, the active ingredient in most over-the-counter antiperspirants, but at a much higher concentration. Regular use can block overactive sweat glands, although they can also cause localized skin irritation, and there’s some (largely unproven) concerns that the aluminum can damage lymph nodes and contribute to cancer. If this treatment is still not enough, certain oral medications and even electric current therapy can sometimes work, though they must be thoroughly discussed with a medical professional.
However, if you find that your sweating is becoming a problem but may not quite meet the definition of hyperhidrosis, there’s plenty you can do at home to minimize the effect. It starts with a strong antiperspirant to prevent sweating in the first place, but it’s also important to apply a quality body powder to areas of heavier perspiration to absorb moisture and block odor. Remember, it’s not your sweat that smells bad, but the bacteria that thrive in a sweaty environment. Control your sweat, and you can keep your most sensitive areas dry, clean, and odor-free.