Most of us have faced situations where our palms and armpits have become damp with sweat due to nervousness or worry. Imagine, however, if this were a chronic condition and you sweated excessively in some particular parts of your body—beyond what is normal for the human body.
Normally, people sweat to keep the temperature of the body steady at a normal level during exercise or when they have fever or in hot weather. People suffering from hyperhidrosis, however, sweat more than normal even when they are not exercising or are healthy or the weather is not hot. This kind of excessive sweating can be either focal or generalized sweating.
With focal hyperhidrosis certain focal places sweat more: these are the face, the armpits, the palms, and the soles of the feet. The rest of the body sweats normally. As of now the cause for this excessive sweating is not known but the theory is that the sweat glands are hyperactive here or are abnormally sensitive. Focal hyperhidrosis can affect anyone at any age though it usually affects people during their teenage years and before the age of 25. It may have a genetic basis and it can run in the family. About 2% to 3% of the population is affected by it. The severity of the sweating varies. It can be triggered by anxiety or high emotion, by eating spicy foods, and hot weather. But generally it is nothing as obvious that triggers the sweating and a person can be normal and at rest and still sweat excessively. The condition is a long-term one and there are no tests as the underlying cause is not known.
With generalized hyperhidrosis the sweating takes place all over the body. It is less common than focal hyperhidrosis but it does have an underlying medical cause. Some cancers or infections, anxiety disorders, heart or hormone problems, damaged spinal cord nerves, and drug side-effects can all cause generalized hyperhidrosis. Since the reason can be discovered tests can be made and treatment administered depending on the cause.
Focal hyperhidrosis is not a dangerous medical condition but it does cause discomfort, distress, and social embarrassment. Sweaty handshakes, sweat drops on work documents, and obviously sweaty armpits can cause you distress. You might then start avoiding social contacts or sports because of this condition. Further, though these are uncommon complications, eczema can develop as the skin becomes prone to infections.
What you can do to avoid this excessive sweating is avoid triggers such as heat and spicy foods—keep yourself cool and eat bland food. If you feel that the soap you use is irritating the skin then use a bland substitute like a moisturizing cream. Regular use of the usual antiperspirants may help. Wear loose cotton clothing and change once or twice a day—especially socks if you have excessive foot sweating. If the regular antiperspirants don’t work for you then the doctor may suggest the use of one that contains aluminium chloride, which can be used on the armpits and hands and feet. But follow the instructions for use correctly as otherwise there may be side effects.
Iontophoresis is an electrical stimulation treatment that is used to treat this condition as it blocks the sweat glands in some way. Avoid it, however, if you have a pacemaker or metal implant, or are pregnant. Botulinum toxin injections and some medicines are also suggested treatment as they prevent those nerves from working that control the sweat gland. The effect wears off after a while though. Surgery is an option for those people for whom other treatments have shown no effect. But do discuss all the pros and cons of your treatment with your physician.