Everybody sweats, as sweating is a completely natural body function. It can, however, become extremely distressing and almost life-impairing if sweating happens excessively and cannot be controlled. This condition called Hyperhidrosis is nothing one needs to bear like a burden. Find out more about the different types of heavy sweating.
Heavy sweating – Causes, symptoms and solutions
Heavy sweating – a common condition
Sweating is a normal body function. Everybody sweats when the weather is hot or during physical activity like practicing sports: A salty, transparent fluid (99% water, 1 % salt) is produced and released through eccrine sweat glands, thus fulfilling the vital physical function of cooling our bodies down.
Further sweating can occur when one is stressed or nervous: additionally to the eccrine sweat glands, so called apocrine sweat glands are active and release a comparatively small amount of sweat that has a different composition: it is high in proteins and lipids. Metabolised by bacteria apocrine sweat leads to unwanted body odour.
Most people have also experienced excessive and unpredictable sweating, such as after a workout, in hot weather etc. In these situations, the body will produce and release greater amounts of moisture. If this happens even in circumstances that would not usually trigger sweating (i.e. in moderate temperatures, or when the body is at rest), this is a condition called Hyperhidrosis. People with Hyperhidrosis may sweat excessively and may find that even changing external circumstances, such as staying out of the sun, will not help. Their sweat glands are overactive.
Do I have heavy sweating or Hyperhidrosis?
You may have heavy sweating if...
You may have hyperhidrosis if...
You get considerable wet patches under your arms, sweat drips from your face and/or your socks become damp during exercise or hot weather
Normal Anti-perspirants do not protect you enough from sweating
You notice an improvement when using Anti-perspirants designed for heavy sweating
Lifestyle changes have a positive effect on your sweating
You sweat considerably more than most people
You have at least one episode of excessive sweating a week
There is a history of Hyperhidrosis in your family
You suspect you may have an underlying medical condition
Excessive sweating can range from moderate to severe dripping, resulting in large wet stains on clothes, damp and smelly feet and shoes, or clammy or wet hands.
Around 1% of the population sweats excessively without obvious reason.
The two types of Hyperhidrosis
The term Hyperhidrosis is used when excessive sweating goes beyond normal expectations. There are two major types.
- When the excessive sweating affects certain parts of the body such as hands, feet, parts of the face, or the armpits, this is called primary (idiopathic) or focal Hyperhidrosis.
- Although excessive sweating is not considered unhealthy, it can also be a symptom of a medical condition. Sometimes even a serious one. If this is the case, it is called secondary Hyperhidrosis, meaning that the excessive sweating is a side-effect of an underlying medical condition or a hormonal cause (such as pregnancy or menopause).
People suffering from primary or secondary Hyperhidrosis may experience their condition as embarrassing, distressing and sometimes even debilitating. Therefore, heavy sweating may have severe psychological implications and effects such as feelings of depression and anxiety caused by social embarrassment.
Symptoms – the effects of heavy sweating
There is no set way of defining excessive sweating in terms of “amounts of sweat”. Yet if heavy sweating is interfering with daily life and normal activities, this may be Hyperhidrosis.
The following description can help to diagnose:
Primary Hyperhidrosis is likely when excessive sweating has occurred for longer than six months. It mainly occurs in axillae, palms, soles or craniofacial sites. It is rather symmetric, does not occur during night and in most cases it happens at least weekly. It has genetic predisposition and starts before the age of 25.
In cases of primary or focal Hyperhidrosis (where only certain parts of the body are affected), the affected areas are:
- armpits (axillary Hyperhidrosis)
- the back
- palms of the hands (palmar Hyperhidrosis)
- face (facial Hyperhidrosis)
- soles of the feet
- back of the knees
These areas have an unusually high concentration of eccrine glands that are responsible for sweating. Outbreaks of focal Hyperhidrosis, may, however, be experienced in several body parts at the same time.
Frequency of Hyperhidrosis
One or more episodes of excessive sweating per week are the norm for most of those suffering from primary or focal Hyperhidrosis (but never during sleep).
For those suffering from secondary Hyperhidrosis (where the condition has an underlying cause), the frequency of sweating episodes depends on the medical condition that triggers them.
Dealing with the symptoms
Coping with the outbreaks of heavy sweating can impair the quality of everyday life:
Frequent showering or changing of clothes during one day is time-consuming, the reluctance to take a jacket off or feeling of unease when having to shake hands with others for example may lead to social embarrassment, sports activities may not want to be pursued anymore. It may even interfere with business or job life (holding tools or using a keyboard may become difficult with focal Hyperhidrosis on the hands, for example). Social withdrawal of the sufferers may be the result.
Why sweating can become excessive
An overactivity in the production of sweat glands (called eccrine glands) appears to be the main cause of Hyperhidrosis.
Research has shown that in cases of primary or focal Hyperhidrosis, the part of the brain that regulates the sweating process will emit signals to the eccrine glands even when there is no actual need to cool the body. This dysfunction of the autonomous nervous system will cause sweat production to be stimulated without any apparent cause and leave the sufferers with the unpleasant effects.
Primary or focal Hyperhidrosis is thought to be genetic: the condition tends to run in families (family history is evident in 30 to 50 % in people). Often relatives are or were affected by the condition. Focal Hyperhidrosis only affects otherwise healthy people, with an onset in puberty and usually peaking in their twenties or thirties.
The causes secondary Hyperhidrosis differ.
They can be:
- Substance and alcohol abuse
- Heart disease
- Respiratory failure
- Overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism)
- Certain medications
- Peripheral nerve injury
- Parkinson’s disease
It is absolutely vital that any case of secondary Hyperhidrosis is examined by a doctor right away for a diagnosis.
Heavy sweating can be temporary or long-term
Even if the roots of focal Hyperhidrosis are genetic, there are some factors that can contribute to the outbreaks of sweat. Just as with every bout of temporary heavy sweating, these can be triggered by anxiousness or nervousness about a particular situation, encounter or event.
Lifestyle changes, a fluctuation in general health or gaining weight, alcohol, medication or drug consumption can also trigger outbreaks of heavy sweating, just as climate or temperature changes in general can.
If the Hyperhidrosis is caused by an infection, an illness or by hormonal changes, it is secondary Hyperhidrosis and the contributing factor is actually the reason. A doctor should be consulted in these cases.
Small lifestyle changes may help if sweating is temporary
Treatments and measures that offer help for Hyperhidrosis
There is no treatment that will stop anyone from sweating. After all, it is an essential body function. However, people suffering from Hyperhidrosis can today choose between several options that will relieve the distressing symptoms of Hyperhidrosis. Some of them even permanently.
A wide range of surgical and non-surgical options is available, differing in costs, side effects and duration of their efficacy. Most of them act on the nerves stimulating the sweat glands.
Effective treatment can result in dramatic improvements in the lives of those having to live with the condition, so diagnosis and management should be considered carefully.
Treatments should be discussed with a doctor.
The topical application: Anti-perspirant
Anti-perspirants are especially effective in minimising excessive sweating in the armpits through their main ingredient (based on aluminium salts) and are also usually the first measure that is recommended by dermatologists, as it is a rather “cosmetic” and non-invasive way to keep sweating at bay.
Anti-perspirants contain aluminium salts like Aluminium Chlorohydrate (ACH) or Aluminium Chloride (AC) as active substances. These act on the eccrine and apocrine sweat glands by partially and reversibly clogging the duct of the sweat gland thus reducing the amount of sweat that is produced. This clogging is harmless. Because there is less sweat, there is less dampness and noticeably less odour. Anti-perspirants are available as sprays or roll-ons, and even small quantities of Anti-perspirant can make a big difference to the output of sweat.
In cases of excessive sweating we advise to try out the following routine:
Use Eucerin 48 h Anti-Perspirant Roll-On both in the evening, before going to bed, and in the morning. Using Eucerin 48 h Anti-Perspirant Roll-On in the evening allows the active ingredients to build up the clogs in the sweat glands. They are not washed out by the shower and last at least for two days. Therefore the effect of product is more intense by an increased usage frequency.
If the effect is not yet strong enough for your individual needs we suggest that you try out Eucerin 72 h Anti-Perspirant Intensive Pump-Spray, with ultimate efficacy against strong perspiration and odour. Please make sure to read and follow the usage instructions carefully and do not use on a daily base for a longer period of time to avoid irritations.
Options for dermatological treatments include:
- Botulinum toxin type A
(Widely known under the trade name Botox) Especially helpful for those suffering from axillary Hyperhidrosis and considered to be one of today’s best-studied treatments, with injections of the neurotoxis substance helping to ban severe sweating in armpits: Nerves are inhibited from signaling the eccrine sweat glands to act and sweating is inhibited.
- Iontophoresis (Electric treatment)
This method introduces ions into the skin through an electric current. The electricity will act on the sweat glands by temporarily “switching” them off. Iontophoresis is suitable for treating focal Hyperhidrosis on hands and feet. In severe cases, even surgical treatments can be performed on the thyroid. The procedures (mostly performed by laser or surgery) eliminate the signal telling the body to sweat excessively. Recommended for patients who suffer from severe focal Hyperhidrosis on the hands, armpits or on the face.
- Medication with so-called anticholinergics drugs
In this systemic treatment, neurotransmitter blocks will help prevent the stimulation of sweat glands. These drugs, however, have mainly been used for the treatment of secondary hyperhidrosis and have severe side effects.
Other measures and precautions that might help
Symptoms of heavy sweating may be improved by lifestyle changes such as:
- avoiding spicy foods, alcohol and coffee
- staying out of the sun
- wearing natural fibres, such as cotton
- choosing either light or very dark clothing that will conceal the signs of sweating
- armpit shields are also an option. They will additionally absorb sweat and protect clothing