From the top of your crown to the soles of your feet, the human body contains two to four million sweat glands. That means that almost every surface of your skin is prepared to perspire at a moment’s notice. Sweating at the gym is like wearing a badge of honour; but sweating behind a podium during an important presentation is a badge of embarrassment.
Do you find yourself sweating more than you think is normal? Are you the only one in the room that seems to be melting from the heat? Do you constantly have sweat stains on your back and armpits? If this sounds like you, you may suffer from excessive sweating.
The Mechanisms of Sweat
Perspiration is the chemical reaction when your body overheats. When your internal system gets warmer than 37°C, your brain’s hypothalamus triggers your sweat glands to perspire. Sweat secretes from your pores, where it eventually evaporates, causing your body to cool down.
If sweating after a workout or after spending some time in the hot sun were the only occasions to worry about perspiration, it might not be so embarrassing. But sweating is also triggered when we feel extreme stress, such as anger or anxiety. Many emotions, like anger, trigger a “fight or flight” stress response, which releases a hormone that makes your heart beat much faster and produces sweat . If you ever felt so flushed with anger or anxiety that you suddenly feel your skin burn up and your palms start to clam, you can thank this ancient stress response.
Contrary to popular opinion, sweat does not smell bad. The smell that occurs from perspiration is caused by your sweat combining with bacteria on the surface of your skin. By itself, sweat has only a very faint odor.
What Is Excessive Sweating?
Excessive sweating, or hyperhidrosis, can affect anyone. If you suffer from an anxiety disorder or illness, excessive sweating will likely happen. It is perfectly normal to break out into a sweat before an exam. However, if you sweat often and without any apparent reason, you may have hyperhidrosis. There are two types of hyperhidrosis: primary and secondary.
Primary hyperhidrosis is excessive sweating in the palms of your hands and soles of your feet, armpits, and groin. Excessive sweating happens for no obvious reason. Doctors still aren’t quite sure why primary hyperhidrosis happens, although it is likely hereditary. Secondary hyperhidrosis is excessive sweating all over your body (remember those millions of sweat glands) that typically happens at night or when you sleep and is usually caused by a medical condition or as a side effect of certain medications.
Conditions Associated with Excessive Sweating
If you’re fighting an illness, such as a cold or flu, your symptoms likely include excessive sweating, which is completely normal and a sign that your body is fighting an infection or virus. Your excessive sweating will dissipate as your flu or cold fades.
Menopause is a very common cause of secondary hyperhidrosis, or night sweats. It frequently triggers extreme hot flashes in women, causing them to sweat profusely. Unfortunately, hot flashes cannot be prevented or cured; however, this symptom of menopause is normal and will dissipate over time. Wearing loose-fitting clothes and using breathable bed sheets can help. Over-the-counter medication and herbal supplements may also help relieve you of your symptoms of menopause.
Secondary hyperhidrosis is symptomatic of many mental disorders and physical conditions, such as:
- Cold or flu
- Acute Stress Disorder
Also, excessive sweating can be a side effect of certain medications that treat depression, diabetes, high blood pressure, or cancer. If your excessive sweating is caused by your medication, speak to your doctor if it becomes unbearable. Don’t stop taking the drug without consulting a physician.
Some external factors may trigger excessive sweating such as:
- Falling in love
- Smoking cigarettes
- Medication (adverse reaction)
- Eating spicy foods
- Drinking alcohol
Why Excessive Sweating Is No Joke
Although it smells and tastes salty, the main ingredient in sweat is water. It’s no secret that when we sweat, we lose water, which causes thirst, or, in other words, dehydration. Dehydration is a serious condition that could lead to severe health consequences, including death. It occurs when water loss exceeds water intake. A loss of one to two percent is considered mild dehydration and can be resolved by drinking water. Water loss in excess of ten percent presents dangerous risks. If you suffer from hyperhidrosis, it’s extremely important to stay hydrated in situations where sweating is inevitable and to avoid overexertion in hot temperatures. If you plan on going somewhere hot and sunny, be sure to stick to the shade, drink plenty of water, and wear sun protection.
Excessive sweating should not be ignored. See your doctor if you experience any of the following:
- Sweating only on one side of your body (asymmetrical sweating)
- Night Sweats
- Excessive sweating that happens around the same time you switch to a new drug
- If you notice that you’re suddenly sweating more profusely without any apparent reason
- If you’re sweating not merely from your primary areas (armpits, feet, groin, hands, head, and face)
How to Treat & Prevent Excessive Sweat
If excessive sweating happens often, it may be time to eliminate certain foods from your diet. Coffee and other stimulants and warm drinks naturally increase your body temperature, which will likely cause you to sweat. Avoid drinking excessive alcohol, as your increased heart rate can cause extreme night sweating.
If you suffer from primary hyperhidrosis, there are many non-surgical methods of treatment:
- Prescription-strength antiperspirants
- Antiperspirants can be used on more than just your armpits. Apply where it’s needed, such as your feet, back, and chest. You may buy separate antiperspirant products for this or simply use what you have.
- NB: while deodorant stabilizes the smell of your sweat, it won’t stop you from sweating. There are many contentious arguments over the health risks of using antiperspirant vs. deodorant (i.e. many commercial-grade antiperspirants contain low traces of dangerous chemicals that are potentially harmful to the body, not to mention they effectively clog your pores). If this concerns you, look for an all-natural antiperspirant from your local health-food store.
- Botox injections
- Iontophoresis (a low-intensity electrical current)
- Anticholinergic medication
Treatment for secondary hyperhidrosis depends on the cause; for instance, it’s possible to clear up secondary hyperhidrosis simply by changing your medication or getting your undiagnosed health issues finally resolved. That’s why it’s important to speak to your doctor about your excessive sweat.
A Note about Anxious Sweating
If you suffer from an anxiety disorder, you are more likely to sweat in uncomfortable situations. Some experts believe that anxiety-related sweating is not the same as primary or secondary hyperhidrosis. Although, it is possible to experience anxiety sweats while simultaneously suffering from hyperhidrosis.
What Else Can You Do if You Suffer from Hyperhidrosis?
If you’re one to literally sweat the small stuff, it might be time to assess your emotional wellbeing. In other words, if you get so angry or anxious to the point where you’re constantly breaking out into a complete sweat, practicing mindfulness may actually help a great deal. If you feel like you don’t have control over your emotions, consider anger management or psychological treatment, which can help you in more ways than one. As embarrassing as excessive sweat may be, it is also your body trying to tell you something.