So it’s summer and I’m talking about sweat! I categorise people into a few groups. There are the people like me who get hot and bothered in a bit of heat and out pop the awkward sweat patches. Then there are those annoying people who just never sweat, who just wander around sweat free, how do they do it?! Or the proud sweaters, the ones who wear those patches with pride for all of us to enjoy seeing. We all know a few of those. No joke though, sometimes the heat has me walking around like I’m in a Sure advert. You know the one where your arms are glued to your side. I may not be the non-sweating type but I sure plan to pass off as one.
Let’s be honest, sweat is an issue for most of us. But for many unlucky people, it’s a real problem and that’s for guys as well as girls. There is a name for being very sweaty, hyperhidrosis. We are talking April showers in the middle of July, out of control sweating on your face, hands, chest, back, feet and armpits.
I want to talk today about what could be causing excess sweating and how you can manage it to avoid those dreaded sweat patches.
Is sweating normal?
Yes! It’s a natural process and it is not a bad thing. If it doesn’t worry you, then it’s absolutely fine. The problem arises when you start sweating too much, so much so that it starts to affect your life, makes you self conscious or affects your skin and clothes. At that point it’s an issue and it needs looking into.
What is hyperhidrosis?
So, we can say someone has hyperhidrosis when they get visible, excessive sweating in certain specific areas. People describe having to change their clothes a few times a day, or have visible sweat patches within an hour of dressing. It usually includes at least one of the following areas; the armpits, palms, soles or face. If it has been going on for 6 months and there are no other features other than sweating (eg. weight loss or other body changes that may suggest an underlying condition – check the list lower down), then simple hyperhidrosis is likely. Other things that suggest it isn’t anything sinister are; if it is symmetrical (both armpits or both hands, etc.), it happens at least once a week, usually starts before your mid twenties or if it stops when you are asleep. If you fit that picture then usually no further tests are needed.
What can cause excess sweating?
Some examples of other causes of hyperhidrosis that would need further tests are: pregnancy, prescribed drugs, recreational drugs or alcohol (abuse or withdrawal), heart problems, infections, thyroid problems, menopause, diabetes, lymphoma, obesity or anxiety.
See your GP if you are worried about your sweating and find out if you need more tests. If you notice any weight loss, night sweats, swollen glands, tiredness or any new changes that start when the sweating starts, then see a doctor for advice.
How do you manage excessive sweating?
Ok so the obvious things first, avoid anything that triggers your sweating where possible.
For the armpits: Use an antiperspirant (rather than deodorant) frequently. Avoid tight clothes and wear lighter colours. There are even absorbent pads that you can apply under clothes to absorb moisture.
For feet: Change socks as often as you need to, better still wear sandals or leather shoes instead of boots or trainers. Try absorbent insoles or absorbent foot powder.
Body odour: This is the sweat mixing with bacteria on the skin. Sweat doesn’t smell! So keep clean with regular showers and if your clothes get ‘sweated out’ and smell, get rid of them as every time you wear them the smell will return.
What if I am still sweating?
The next thing to try is aluminium chloride. This is a controversial product as there has been some research that has shown a potential link to breast cancer so be warned. However, you can buy this or get it prescribed by your doctor if you are not sure which to get. The lotion is usually a 20% concentration, it needs to be applied at night on dry, clean skin and washed off in the morning. It can come as a roll on, spray or powder, depending on what part of the body you are using it for. As it starts to work, its effect will last longer and you can use it less often. There are some people who say the use of aluminium on the skin isn’t good for you, the jury is still out but it is recommended in use for sweating by UK NICE guidelines.
And if after that I am still sweating …?
Don’t despair, there are other things available through your GP and specialists.
- Iontophoresis: your hands or feet are placed in a shallow tray of water and attached to an iontophoresis machine. A weak current is passed through and feels almost like pins and needles. It is usually performed in hospital, but home treatment kits can be purchased for £250 to £500. A treatment takes around 30 minutes and you usually need a course with maintenance treatments.
- Botulinum toxin: small amounts of botox are injected into the skin. This works better for the armpits than other areas.
- Surgery: rarely if all of the above has failed, then the sweat glands can be removed but this can cause scarring and side effects so isn’t widely available as an option.
Remember, sweating is a natural process! We all do it, just some more than others. It can be controlled well with the right treatment. If you have found that you are sweating more than other people do and it’s becoming problematic, go see your doctor and get some help!