DR MAXWELL ADEYEMI
Excessive sweating or hyperhidrosis can disrupt daily activities and cause social anxiety or embarrassment.
Hyperhidrosis is a common condition that affects between one to three in every 100 people. There are no guidelines to determine what “normal” sweating is, but if you feel you sweat too much and it has started to interfere with your everyday daily life, you should see a doctor.
Hyperhidrosis can develop at any age, although primary hyperhidrosis typically starts during childhood or soon after puberty. The sweating may affect the whole of your body, or it may only affect certain areas. Commonly affected areas include the: armpits, palms of your hands, soles of your feet, face and chest, groin.
The condition may cause:
• Avoidance of physical contact, such as shaking hands, because you feel self-conscious about your sweating
• Avoidance from taking part in activities, such as dancing or exercise, for fear they will make your sweating worse
• Interference with your job – for example, you have difficulty holding tools or using a computer keyboard
• Problems with normal daily activities, such as driving
• Spending a significant amount of time coping with sweating – for example, frequently showering and changing your clothes
• Socially withdrawal and self-consciousness.
You should consider seeking medical help if your heavy sweating is accompanied by:
• Chest pain
• A body temperature of 104 F (40 C) or higher
• You suddenly begin to sweat more than usual.
• Sweating disrupts your daily routine.
• You experience night sweats for no apparent reason
If heavy sweating has no underlying medical cause, it’s called primary hyperhidrosis. This type occurs when the nerves responsible for triggering your sweat glands become overactive and call for more perspiration even when it’s not needed. Primary hyperhidrosis may be at least partially hereditary.
If the sweating can be attributed to an underlying medical condition, it is called secondary hyperhidrosis.
Health conditions that may cause excessive sweating include: diabetes especially hypoglycemia; endocarditis; fever of undetermined cause; generalised anxiety disorder; hiatal hernia; heat exhaustion; HIV/Aids; overactive thyroid; leukaemia; malaria; medication side effects; menopause; pregnancy; inflammation of the stomach lining; obesity; stress; and tuberculosis.
Your doctor will usually be able to diagnose hyperhidrosis based on your symptoms, although occasionally you may need blood and urine tests to check for an underlying cause.
Hyperhidrosis doesn’t usually pose a serious threat to your health, but it can sometimes lead to physical and emotional problems. These include:
• The risk of developing fungal infections, particularly on the feet – most commonly fungal nail infections and athlete’s foot. This is because excessive sweat combined with wearing socks and shoes creates an ideal surrounding for fungi to grow. These infections can be treated with anti fungal creams. More severe cases may require anti fungal tablets or capsules.
• Warts – small, rough lumps on the skin that are caused by the HPV virus
• Boils – swollen red-yellow bumps in the skin that can develop when a hair follicle becomes infected
• Eczema can be made worse by excessive sweating.
• Body odour. Most people don’t have problems with body odour because hyperhidrosis doesn’t usually affect the apocrine sweat glands responsible for producing unpleasant-smelling sweat. However, if bacteria are allowed to break down the sweat, it can start to smell unpleasant. Eating spicy food and drinking alcohol can also cause body odour.
The emotional impact of living with hyperhidrosis can be severe. Fortunately, treatment is available. It may take a while to find a treatment that is right for you, so it is recommended you start with the least invasive, such as powerful antiperspirants. Once tests are done to ensure there are no underlying medical conditions causing hyperhidrosis, treatments may include;
• Prescription antiperspirant.
• Prescription cream.
• Nerve-block medication.
• Botulinum toxin injections.
• In some cases, surgical interventions such as microwave therapy, sweat gland removal and nerve surgery may be needed.
Lifestyle changes may also help, including:
• Wearing loose and light clothes
• Wearing black or white clothes to help minimise the signs of sweating.
• Wearing shoes made from natural materials, such as leather.
• Wearing socks made from natural fibres to absorb moisture.
• Wearing armpit shields to protect clothes from perspiration.
• Avoiding triggers, such as alcohol and spicy foods that could make your sweating worse
Hyperhidrosis is usually a long-term condition, but some people experience an improvement with time and the treatments available can often keep the problem under control. If these measures are not effective enough, you may need to see a dermatologist.