Excessive sweating is also known as hyperhidrosis; it is a fairly common condition, affecting around 3 percent of the UK population. There are two main types of hyperhidrosis; these include focal and generalised hyperhidrosis. Focal hyperhidrosis affects only certain parts of the body, while generalised hyperhidrosis affects all of the body.
What causes hyperhidrosis?
Hyperhidrosis is classified as either primary or secondary; primary hyperhidrosis has no apparent cause and secondary hyperhidrosis is caused by an underlying health condition, which causes the body to sweat excessively. Most cases of focal hyperhidrosis are examples of primary hyperhidrosis and most cases of generalised hyperhidrosis are examples of secondary hyperhidrosis.
Primary hyperhidrosis: in the past this condition was linked to stress and anxiety; however, these causes have now been discounted and experts believe that other factors may contribute to sweating. Possible causes include genetics and problems with the sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for many important actions, such as controlling urination, producing sweat and moving food through the digestive system. In people with hyperhidrosis, the glands that produce sweat are over-stimulated and the body starts to sweat excessively.Secondary hyperhidrosis: this condition may be caused by a number of different factors, including:
- Overactive thyroid gland
- Alcohol and drug abuse
- Respiratory problems
- Heart disease
- Certain medications, including those used to treat Alzheimer’s disease and depression
What are the symptoms of hyperhidrosis?
Hyperhidrosis is characterised by excessive sweating; this does not cause any medical problems but it may cause the individual to feel self-conscious and it may inhibit and change their behaviour in social situations. People with hyperhidrosis may feel uncomfortable shaking hands with other people, participating in sports or activities which will make them sweat more and spending time with other people.
Should I see my doctor?
You should see your doctor if you are worried about the amount you are sweating and it is starting to interfere with your daily life; everyone sweats from time to time but excessive sweating is not common and it may be indicative of a more serious health condition so it is always best to get checked out. When you arrange to see your doctor they will ask questions about your sweating and general health and they will ask you to do a urine test and blood test; this will help them to identify if the sweating is a result of another health condition. Don’t be embarrassed to see your doctor about this problem; they are used to dealing with this condition.
Which treatments are available for hyperhidrosis?
If you are diagnosed with secondary hyperhidrosis the condition which is causing the sweating will be treated first; this will hopefully ease the sweating.
There are numerous treatments available for primary hyperhidrosis; these include:
- Changes in lifestyle: making simple changes to your lifestyle may ease symptoms; possible changes include avoiding tight and restrictive clothing, using antiperspirant on a regular basis, avoiding synthetic shoes, wearing clothing that doesn’t show sweat and avoiding triggers that you known cause you to sweat more (examples of common triggers include spicy food and drinking alcohol).
- Using prescription antiperspirant: if the antiperspirant you buy from shops isn’t helping, your GP can prescribe a stronger antiperspirant. Aluminium chloride is the most common example of this treatment; it works by blocking the sweat glands.
- Referral to a dermatologist: a dermatologist is a specialist in skin conditions. They may suggest treatments including iontophoresis, botulinum toxin and ETS.
- Iontophoresis: this treatment involves placing the feet or hands in a bowl of water and attaching a wet pad to the armpits. An electric current is then passed through the water; it is thought that this process helps to block the sweat glands. Sessions usually last for 20 minutes and most patients have between 2 and 4 sessions per week.
- Botulinum toxin: this is a type of poison that is injected into problem areas in very mild doses. This treatment works by blocking the signals that travel from the brain to the sweat glands.
- ETS (endoscopic thoracic sympathectomy): this treatment is usually used as a last resort when other types of treatment have failed. This is a surgical procedure which involves inserting a tiny camera known as an endoscope into the chest cavity; this enables the surgeon to get a better view of the cavity without carrying out more invasive surgery. The surgeon removes some of the nerve tissue that connects the sympathetic nerve system and the sweat glands. It is only usually used to help people that sweat from the armpits, hands and face.