It's the middle of the day, and you've already soaked through the armpits of your shirt. Your feet or hands are wet and clammy and you feel tiny beads of sweat trickling down your temples. All this perspiration is making you nervous, which only makes you sweat more.
If the above scenario is part of your daily life, you may be suffering from hyperhidrosis. More than 220 million people around the world have this condition, according to the International Hyperhidrosis Society.
"Perspiration is a normal function, which allows the human body to cool itself off," says Michael Stouder, MD, a board-certified family medicine physician at Mission Heritage Medical Group. "But with hyperhidrosis, this process doesn't work properly and it results in excessive sweating. It's not limited to the armpits, either--the feet, palms or head can produce sweat, too."
The best way to confirm if you have hyperhidrosis is to consult with a doctor, who will do a physical exam and possibly run some tests. "The physician may determine you have primary hyperhidrosis, where sweating is concentrated in just a couple areas of the body and there isn't an underlying cause," Dr. Stouder says. "Or you may have secondary hyperhidrosis, where you sweat profusely all over your body. There's usually an underlying medical condition, such as diabetes, anxiety, or an overactive thyroid. Whatever the case, there are ways to manage hyperhidrosis to make your daily life more comfortable."
Among the options your doctor may suggest:
Antiperspirant. "Deodorants only mask odors, but antiperspirants actually act as plugs in the skin to stop sweat glands from overproducing," Dr. Stouder says. "You can use an over-the-counter or prescription-strength antiperspirant and it can be applied not just under the arms, but also to other parts of the body where you experience hyperhidrosis, such as the soles of the feet."
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Iontophoresis. With this procedure, the hands or feet are placed in water while a machine runs a low electrical current through it to stop the sweat glands from working temporarily.
Botox injections. Injections into the body parts affected by hyperhidrosis can stop production of the chemical that gets the sweat glands going. "Treatments usually require multiple injections at each site, but the Botox can be effective for up to 10 months," Dr. Stouder says.
Prescription medication. Anticholinergics block the chemicals that can trigger sweating, while beta blockers and benzodiazepines work on the central nervous system. Each type of medication has its pros and cons, and a dosage and treatment plan should be individualized to each patient, taking into account such factors as the parts of the body affected by hyperhidrosis, patient age and other medical conditions.
Surgery. There are several techniques that can be used to either remove the sweat glands or sever the nerves leading to the glands. These are usually reserved for advanced cases of hyperhidrosis.
"In addition to these treatment options, people with hyperhidrosis should also wear clothing with moisture-wicking properties, or fabrics in loose weaves, such as cotton or linen, that are breathable, light and don't trap moisture," Dr. Stouder says. "If the feet are affected, wear shoes in natural fabrics and moisture-wicking socks, and set the shoes aside for a few days after wearing them so they can dry out completely. And if night sweating is an issue, look for light cotton bedding. Finally, if there are triggers that make hyperhidrosis worse than at other times--say because of stress or spicy foods--know them and avoid them as much as possible."
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.