Hyperhidrosis (Abnormal Sweating): Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

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Sweating is a normal thing as the human body regularly needs to regulate its temperature. Excessive sweat is also normal depending on the type of activity one is engaged in. Normally, the sweat glands produce perspiration that’s carried to the skin’s surface when;

  • the air temperature rises,
  • you develop a fever, you’re exercising, or
  • you’re feeling anxious, nervous, or under stress.

When the above factors are no longer an issue, the nerves that signal sweating are expected to be put on hold. If you have frequent sweaty hands or excessive sweating in other parts of your body that is not caused by any of the above mentioned things that might trigger perspiration, then you may have hyperhidrosis.

Another medical condition involving excess sweat, called diaphoresis, should not be considered the same as Hyperhidrosis, although they are similar. Hyperhidrosis is the most common reason for excessive sweating, but it’s due to an overactive sympathetic nervous system, which makes it different from diaphoresis. To know more about diaphoresis, just visit Diaphoresis (Excessive Sweating): Causes and Treatment.

What is Hyperhidrosis?

Hyperhidrosis is a condition characterized by abnormally increased sweating, in excess of that required for regulation of body temperature. There are two types of hyperhidrosis;

  • Primary or focal hyperhidrosis: This causes excessive sweating in the hands, underarms, face, and feet without any apparent reason. People with primary (focal) hyperhidrosis generally sweat from a certain type of sweat gland called eccrine sweat glands which are particularly numerous on the feet, palms, face, and armpits.
  • Secondary or generalized hyperhidrosis: This causes excessive sweating all over the body. Unlike primary (focal) hyperhidrosis, there is something causing secondary (generalized) hyperhidrosis: a medical condition or a medication.

Causes of Hyperhidrosis

As mentioned before, there are two types of hyperhidrosis. The causes of hyperhidrosis can be analysed based on these types.

Causes of Primary or Focal Hyperhidrosis:

The actual cause of primary hyperhidrosis is something that has not fully been well-understood. Studies has shown that certain genes play a role in hyperhidrosis. Research shows that it is more likely to be hereditary as most people who experience it have a sibling or parent with similar condition.

Causes of Secondary (generalized) Hyperhidrosis:

Secondary (generalized) hyperhidrosis does not just begin on its own. There is usually something which triggers it: a medical condition or a medication. A number of medical conditions have the potential to cause hyperhidrosis. Some of them include:

  • Spinal cord injury
  • Alcohol or substance abuse
  • Anxiety
  • Diabetes
  • Gout
  • Heart disease
  • Hyperthyroidism – an overactive thyroid gland
  • Obesity
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Pregnancy
  • Respiratory failure
  • Shingles
  • Some cancers, such as Hodgkin’s disease
  • Some infections – HIV, malaria, TB (tuberculosis)
  • Some medications, including some antidepressants, anticholinesterases (for Alzheimer’s disease), pilocarpine (for glaucoma), propranolol (for high blood pressure)

Symptoms of Hyperhidrosis

Sweating excessively at times is normal as the body needs to regulate its body temperature. But besides this and you notice that you are constantly sweating abnormally, then you should be on the look out for the following symptoms;

  • Clammy or wet palms of the hands
  • Clammy or wet soles of the feet
  • Frequent profuse sweating
  • Noticeable sweating that soaks through clothing
  • Irritating and painful skin problems, such as fungal or bacterial infections

Treatment of Hyperhidrosis

The treatment for hyperhidrosis is dependent on the type. Basically when one is diagnosed with hyperhidrosis, the skin specialist or dermatologist, may recommend some alterations in the daily activity and lifestyle of the person. These alterations may include:

  • Use of antiperspirants:

This may be the first treatment that a dermatologist recommends. The use of antiperspirants such as aluminum chloride can go a long way to stop sweating. Note that the use of deodorant helps combat odor and not to stop sweating.

When an antiperspirant is applied, it sits on top of your skin. As you sweat, the antiperspirant is pulled into your sweat glands. This plugs the sweat glands. When your body senses that its sweat glands are plugged, this should signal your body to stop producing so much sweat.

  • Wearing of armpit shields/pads:

Armpit shields/pads are disposable cotton pads that stick to your skin or clothing to absorb excess sweat. When applying directly to the skin, armpit pads work best on dry, clean-shaven armpits.

Armpit shields/pads can leave a rash or cause skin darkening, so if you have sensitive skin, it’s best to avoid sweat pads that adhere directly to your skin. If signs of redness or irritation occur, you should stop usage immediately.

  • Wearing of loose clothing:

  The type of cloth worn also plays a major role in either worsening symptoms or suppressing it. Certain synthetic fibers, such as nylon, may worsen symptoms. Loose clothing is better.

  • Shoes:

For clammy or wet soles of the feet, synthetic materials are more likely to worsen symptoms. Natural materials, such as leather, are recommended.

If the above measures are not effective, medical treatment may help.

  • Iontophoresis – the hands and feet are submerged in a bowl of water. A painless electric current is passed through the water. Most patients need two to four 20-30 minute treatments.
  • Botulinum toxin (Botox injections) – Botox injections block the nerves that trigger the sweat glands. Patients with hyperhidrosis may need several injections for effective results.
  • Anticholinergic drugs – these medications inhibit the transmission of parasympathetic nerve impulses. Patients generally notice an improvement in symptoms within about 2 weeks.
  • ETS (Endoscopic thoracic sympathectomy) – this surgical intervention is only recommended in severe cases which have not responded to other treatments. The nerves that carry messages to the sweat glands are cut. Note that this is not recommended for treating hyperhidrosis of the feet because of the risk of permanent sexual dysfunction.

Key Facts About Hyperhidrosis:

  • Sweating excessively at times is normal as the body needs to regulate its body temperature.
  • Hyperhidrosis is a condition characterized by abnormally increased sweating, in excess of that required for regulation of body temperature.
  • The treatment for hyperhidrosis is dependent on the type.

Julián Fernandez

Besides being an Author at Educative Helper, i am a full-time nurse. My passion to help and provide information to the world brought me here. Health is wealth they say and i make it a priority to ensure everyone gets the right information to lead a healthy and easy life.

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