Hyperhidrosis: What It Is, Why It Happens, and How It’s Treated

Hyperhidrosis: What It Is, Why It Happens, and How It’s Treated

It’s no secret that everyone sweats. Whether it’s a warm, sunny day or you’re hitting the gym, sweat isn’t surprising. Under certain conditions, you might even say you’re sweating an awful lot. But what if you tend to sweat frequently, even when you aren’t warm? What if you find your body producing sweat constantly – and that the sweat is always excessive? You might be living with a health condition called hyperhidrosis.

Hyperhidrosis, or hyperhidrosis disorder, is a condition that causes excessive sweating. That sweat can happen at any time, even when you’re least expecting it. With hyperhidrosis, sweating in cold weather, without exerting yourself, or for any reason at all can occur. And it can be uncomfortable and unpleasant.

If you think you might be living with hyperhidrosis, you’ll need to understand what causes this unique health condition. With knowledge of its causes and its symptoms, you may be better able to treat the sweating you’re experiencing.

What is Hyperhidrosis?

According to the Mayo Clinic, hyperhidrosis is a condition that creates excessive sweating that isn’t related to heat or exercise. You might find yourself sweating more often than usual, or sweating so much that your clothes become soaking wet. You might experience sweat dripping from different parts of your body.

Hyperhidrosis is far more than a little more sweat than usual. The condition can disrupt your normal activities, cause social anxiety, result in a lack of confidence, and even lead to feelings of embarrassment.  

However, hyperhidrosis is actually pretty common. Approximately two to three percent of all Americans suffer from this kind of excessive sweating, and it commonly happens at the underarms, palms of the hands, or soles of the feet.

Unfortunately, not everyone seeks medical help for hyperhidrosis. Some believe that it’s common, others aren’t aware that they’re actually living with a treatable health condition. But if you see a doctor, you may be able to get some relief from excessive sweating.

Types of Hyperhidrosis

There are a few different types of hyperhidrosis. Knowing which specific type you’re living with can help you and your doctor determine more targeted treatment and management options. Different types of hyperhidrosis can have different causes.

The following are the two primary types of hyperhidrosis.

Primary Focal Hyperhidrosis

If you have primary focal hyperhidrosis, you’ll experience excessive sweating on the feet, hands, face, head, and underarms. This type often begins at a young age, and about 30 to 50 percent of those living with primary focal hyperhidrosis actually have a family history of excessive sweating.

Secondary Generalized Hyperhidrosis

If you’re living with secondary generalized hyperhidrosis, you’ll experience excessive sweating as the result of a medical condition or a side effect of medication you’re taking. You might sweat only in certain areas of the body, or you might experience excessive sweating all over. This type tends to start later in life, once you’ve reached adulthood. 

This type of hyperhidrosis can be linked to health conditions like:

  • Adrenal gland disorders
  • Cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Infectious diseases
  • Lung disease
  • Menopause
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Stroke

If you aren’t certain what’s causing your excessive sweating, you’ll want to see a doctor. That’s the only way to know if you have one of these types of hyperhidrosis.

Why Hyperhidrosis Happens

The causes of hyperhidrosis vary. Sweating is normally used to cool down the body, and it’s triggered by the nervous system as body temperature rises. However, that’s not necessarily what happens when you’re living with hyperhidrosis.

Most cases of hyperhidrosis happen in individuals who are generally healthy overall. While some forms of this condition are caused by different health issues, that isn’t always the case. And it’s unclear what, exactly, causes hyperhidrosis in individuals who don’t have another health condition. 

It is known that hyperhidrosis occurs when the nerves that are responsible for signaling the body’s sweat glands become overactive. The nervous system seems to trigger the sweat glands despite a lack of physical activity or rise in body temperature. It’s unclear what, exactly triggers that overactivity to lead to excessive sweating.

Symptoms of Hyperhidrosis

There is just one symptom of hyperhidrosis: excessive sweating. 

However, in order to determine whether you’re suffering from hyperhidrosis or another condition, there are other factors that doctors consider. It’s important to look at where the sweating occurs – a factor that can help determine which type of hyperhidrosis you’re experiencing – and how the sweating affects you.

If you’re experiencing any of the following effects as the result of your sweating, you should see a doctor:

  • At least six months of unexplained excessive sweating.
  • Sweating that disrupts your normal daily routine.
  • Sweat that occurs on both sides of the body or in one particular area.
  • An excessive sweating incident happening at least once weekly.
  • A family history of hyperhidrosis.

These are just a few of the factors that can help doctors identify hyperhidrosis. Then, your doctor can determine if your excessive sweating is caused by another, potentially more serious health condition, or if it’s a condition of its very own.

Treating Hyperhidrosis

Though hyperhidrosis is a frustrating and embarrassing health condition, there is good news. There are ways to treat hyperhidrosis, which can help you live a more normal life.

Once you’re diagnosed with hyperhidrosis, your doctor will try treatment approaches to reduce your sweating. These treatments typically include:

  • Over-the-Counter Antiperspirants: These are stronger antiperspirants that typically contain a low amount of metal salt, like aluminum.
  • Prescription-Strength Antiperspirants: Even stronger than their over-the-counter alternatives, these are antiperspirants prescribed by doctors that contain aluminum chloride hexahydrate.
  • Iontophoresis: A combination of ionized tap water and electricity that can target areas of the skin.
  • Oral Medication: Different medications can reduce sweating from the inside out.
  • Botox: Usually used for migraines and cosmetic purposes, Botox is approved by the FDA for treating excessive underarm sweating.
  • miraDry: A special microwave energy treatment that can permanently kill sweat glands.
  • Laser Treatment: Lasers can be used to target areas of excessive sweating and kill the sweat glands located there.
  • Surgery: A type of surgery called thoracic sympathectomy may be a last resort treatment option for some hyperhidrosis patients.

With the right treatment approach, you can live a normal life. Hyperhidrosis doesn’t have to affect numerous aspects of life. It can be managed and treated. So, if you think you might be suffering from hyperhidrosis and its effects, make an appointment to see your doctor to get an answer – and a potential solution.