Everything You Need to Know About Hyperhidrosis

Most people get sweaty hands or feet when they are nervous about a meeting or a date or when they are exercising. But for people who suffer from hyperhidrosis, the sweat is (often) constant and overwhelming. Let’s look at this condition and what it means for those living with it.

What Is Hyperhidrosis?

Hyperhidrosis, or excessive sweating, is characterized by sweat that is produced in excess of what is necessary for thermoregulation. Sweating is perfectly natural and a necessary function to cool down our bodies. But when you have hyperhidrosis, you’ll start sweating even when your body isn’t overheating. This sweating that has no apparent cause is known to doctors as diaphoresis.

When you have hyperhidrosis, you may experience sweating all over the body, including in the hands, underarms, face, scalp, feet, under the breasts, and the groin. The sweat usually won’t happen all at once; often times, you may only sweat in one or two locations at a time. Furthermore, you can have hyperhidrosis and not sweat in all of those areas. Some people with hyperhidrosis are only affected in one area. The most commonly affected areas are the hands, the feet, and​ the underarms. [1]

People who suffer from hyperhidrosis have the same number and size of sweat glands as people who don’t have the condition. Their sweat glands are just overactive, compared to what they would normally be. [1]

What Are the Symptoms of Hyperhidrosis?

If you’re wondering how to tell whether you have hyperhidrosis , here is a checklist of symptoms for you to review.

  • Noticeable sweat: Even when you’re sitting down and taking it easy, you’ll notice your clothes are wet. On your bare skin, you’ll often see beads of sweat.
  • You leave a trail in your wake: You might not just see sweat on your clothes and skin. You might be transferring it to everything you touch, including doorknobs, keyboards, and papers that you touch.
  • Your skin is white and peeling: With hyperhidrosis, you might notice white and peeling skin from the constant moisture.
  • You have skin infections: Skin infections can happen to people who don’t have hyperhidrosis. But if you have repeated skin infections, like athlete’s foot, you might start to suspect hyperhidrosis.

Different dermatologists will characterize hyperhidrosis in their own way. What’s important is the fact that if you are uncomfortable with the level of sweat that your body produces (wherever it’s being produced), there are solutions that are available – both over-the-counter topical treatments and prescription. If you are interested in prescription solutions, you can book an appointment with your dermatologist and learn how to manage hyperhidrosis with a doctor. [2]

The Impact of Hyperhidrosis

While hyperhidrosis isn’t particularly harmful physically, it can be embarrassing for those who suffer from it. It won’t just give you clammy skin – the sweat can literally drip off. That can cause a great deal of anxiety for those who experience it.

Unfortunately, Hyperhidrosis is more serious than just uncomfortable sweating. Approximately 50% of people with hyperhidrosis change career paths because of it, and 75% of teens say that they are severely impacted by sweating on a daily basis. Based on findings, hyperhidrosis has a greater negative impact on quality of life than any other skin disease. It is important to find help for kids with hyperhidrosis and adults suffering from this debilitating condition.

You may have soaking wet armpits that leak through your clothing despite wearing antiperspirant. You may feel you need to wear several layers of clothes even in hot weather to deal with this problem. Hyperhidrosis will cause you to “drop the ball” time and time again. No really, you will not be able to grip a ball.

Shaking hands can become a nightmare because you may be so self-conscious about how sweaty your palms are. Your socks can become wet even if you don’t do any exercise.

Some people refer to hyperhidrosis as a silent handicap because of the impact it has upon the lives of those who live with it. It can deeply impact their confidence and hyperhidrosis can even keep people from doing the things they love most. [2]

Is Hyperhidrosis Common?

Nearly 5% of the population is the afflicted by hyperhidrosis, and about 1 in every 5 teens suffers from it. But dermatologists and industry experts believe that the U.S. incidence rate is closer to 12%, especially seeing as international prevalence rates range from 14-20%.

While most doctor’s offices are familiar with managing hyperhidrosis, they generally don’t see a lot of patients who suffer from it. Based on current medical records, approximately 3 percent of the population in the United States has hyperhidrosis. However, since hyperhidrosis is such an embarrassing and overlooked condition, many individuals avoid reporting the issue to their doctor. After considering the vast number of people that are not diagnosed with hyperhidrosis, the number of individuals in the US with hyperhidrosis is like well above 3 percent.

Those with family members who have this ailment are more likely to get it – making it an inherited condition. If you have a family member teased for their sweaty hands constantly, there could be a chance they have hyperhidrosis. And you thought the only bad thing you got from your dad was a terrible sense of humor. If you think you have kids who need help with hyperhidrosis due to this unfortunate inheritance there are many things you can do. [3]

What causes Hyperhidrosis?

Doctors haven’t pinpointed the cause of most cases of hyperhidrosis yet. One theory is that particular nerves that control the amount of sweat overreact or malfunction. That malfunction can cause the excessive sweating that can be life-changing for those who suffer from it.

Since hyperhidrosis affects so many people, researchers are now shifting into full gear to discover the causes of excessive sweating so they can develop better treatments.

Although its specific cause isn’t certain, the anxiety and worrying over the sweat does seem to make it worse. It can be a disheartening Catch-22 for those who live with hyperhidrosis – their anxiety about breaking out into a sweat can make them sweat even more. Thinking about your sweaty hands before your upcoming date actually makes you hands even sweatier.

Is There More Than One Type of Hyperhidrosis?

There are two types of hyperhidrosis. Let’s look at the different types and what they entail.

Primary Focal Hyperhidrosis

Primary Focal Hyperhidrosis (PFH) is by far the most common type, affecting up to 90 percent of people who have hyperhidrosis. With PFH, the sweating is caused by the natural genetics of your sweat glands, not by medication a person takes or other medical conditions.

With PFH, You’ll notice sweating happening only in particular areas, such as the feet, groin, palms, and underarms. With PFH, sweat will occur in the same area on both sides of the body. Additionally, the sweat will usually occur in more than one area — one common problem with PFH is that the sweating occurs on hands and feet simultaneously for this type.

This type usually begins in childhood or adolescence. In these cases, experts believe it is something a child is born with – a dominant gene. Some people win the genetic lottery by getting high metabolisms and perfect teeth. Others draw the short stick and end up with hyperhidrosis or other undesirable inherited conditions.

Secondary Generalized Hyperhidrosis

While primary focal hyperhidrosis (PFH) appears to be something you’re born with, secondary generalized hyperhidrosis (SGH) is a condition that shows up later in life. Think of SGH as an uninvited guest who arrives on your doorstep with no warning. Unfortunately, it may not be as quick to kick this guest off your property.

You might suddenly wonder why you’ve been so sweaty lately. And you’d be right to wonder because this type of hyperhidrosis can point to an underlying problem.

With SGH, the primary problem isn’t the hyperhidrosis – it’s the medical condition that might be causing it. That’s why it’s known as secondary hyperhidrosis. The true cause may be a medical condition and the symptom of that condition is hyperhidrosis.

But before you panic, thinking you’re suffering from a mysterious disease, keep in mind the source of this type of hyperhidrosis can also be a medication.

The sweating with this kind of hyperhidrosis is on a much larger area of the skin than PFH is. An second sign of SGH is that this kind usually begins when the individual is an adult.

Unlike with the PFH, this condition doesn’t have to be permanent. If the instigating condition is found and treated, it can fix the hyperhidrosis. It may take a little work, but you CAN kick this guest off your porch.

If you start to worry your hyperhidrosis might have an underlying cause, schedule an appointment to talk to your doctor about managing your hyperhidrosis and find out. [3]

What Conditions Can Cause Secondary Generalized Hyperhidrosis?

Many medical conditions can cause hyperhidrosis. However, just because you have one of the conditions listed below this paragraph doesn’t mean you’ll develop hyperhidrosis for certain.

Here are some of the more common conditions that may be causing the hyperhidrosis you have developed as an adult. [3]

  • A febrile illness
  • Menopause
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Heart failure
  • Diabetes
  • Frostbite
  • Alcoholism
  • Gout
  • Lymphoma and some other cancers and tumors.
  • Obesity
  • Pregnancy
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Stroke

If you have unwanted sweat, then there are solutions available. If your sweat is really severe, you may need to visit a dermatologist and learn how to manage your hyperhidrosis with a doctor. You’ll receive a physical examination and receive the individual medical advice you may need. Visiting your doctor or dermatologist will help establish whether the hyperhidrosis is being caused by a medical or other medical condition (SGH), or whether the issue is a result of naturally over productive sweat glands (PFH).

While at the dermatologist, the doctor will most likely administer a sweat test. For the test, a powder that reacts to moisture is put on your skin. The powder will turn a different color if it gets wet, making it easier to identify the key sweaty areas.

What Are the Treatments for Hyperhidrosis?

It’s not hopeless if you’re diagnosed with or experience symptoms of hyperhidrosis. You’ll have a few different treatments to pursue to see if they help you. These are the existing treatments for hyperhidrosis but new treatments are currently being explored by scientists:

  • Antiperspirants: If a regular antiperspirant isn’t cutting it for you, ask your doctor to write a prescription for a stronger one. To help keep your embarrassing sweating to a minimum, you can apply antiperspirant on more places than just your underarms. Use it on your hands, hairline, or feet as well.
  • An Iontophoresis machine: This medical device sends low-voltage currents into a pan of water where your hands or feet are sitting. The electricity can lessen the activity of your sweat glands, at least for a while. However, it can take up to 10 sessions with the iontophoresis machine to deactivate your sweat glands. You may need to use this machine up to three times a week in the beginning and one treatment can take up to 40 minutes. Although iontophoresis as a treatment for palmar and plantar hyperhidrosis may give your hands and feet a much needed break, the iontophoresis machine is anything but convenient.[3]
  • Botox: If antiperspirant isn’t proving strong enough in your case, you might need Botox injections. Botox can be particularly useful for underarm sweating but botox can also be a treatment for palmar and plantar hyperhidrosis. With this method of treatment, you can have up to 6 months of reduced sweating. If you’re going to pursue this route, you should look for someone who is experienced at doing Botox injections in the underarms to ensure the right area is targeted. [1]
  • Anticholinergics: A few oral medications can for hyperhidrosis can reduce the amount of sweat you produce by stopping your sweat glands from working. Unfortunately, this method can be quite dangerous for people who work in hot environments. Without the sweat to cool down their bodies, individuals are a heightened risk of overheating problems ranging from headaches to heat strokes. These medications also have several side effects, including heart palpitations, blurry vision, and dry mouth. [4]
  • ETS Surgery: An endoscopic thoracic sympathectomy (ETS) is a surgical treatment for primary focal hyperhidrosis. It is an operation where an individual actually has the nerve endings that transfer sensory information to the sweat glands destroyed. Since no known successful reversal of an ETS surgery has ever been recorded, this option isn’t usually on the table unless the other treatments have failed. As with any surgery, having the nerves altered that control your sweat glands removed can be risky. You may develop an infection following surgery. Additionally, scarring or nerve damage can occur. [3]

Defeating Hyperhidrosis

Undoubtedly, hyperhidrosis can be quite the embarrassing condition. Until recently, the lack of research into hyperhidrosis has made hyperhidrosis a tough condition to manage. Although, with the emergence of knowledge into the underlying causes of hyperhidrosis, you may be able to find the solutions you need to manage hyperhidrosis. There are many ways to manage hyperhidrosis at home, with a doctor or with alternative methods. Make sure you control your sweat instead of your sweat controlling you.

Sources
  1. MedicineNet Medical Journal. (2016, May 13). Definition of Hyperhidrosis. Retrieved May 14, 2018, from https://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=16272
  2. Nordqvist, C. (2017, December 21). Hyperhidrosis: Symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment. Retrieved May 14, 2018, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/182130.php
  3. Pariser, D. M. (2014). Hyperhidrosis (4th ed., Vol. 32). Amsterdam: Elsevier Pub. Co., 2014. Retrieved
  4. Symposium on Anticholinergic Drug and Brain Functions in Animals,and Man. (1968). In Bradley P. B. (Ed.), Anticholinergic drugs and brain functions in animals and man Amsterdam, New York etc.] Elsevier Pub. Co., 1968. Retrieved
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