How to manage hyperhidrosis
Approximately 2% of the Irish population are estimated to suffer with hyperhidrosis – the medical term for excessive sweating. Whilst sweating is a natural response to a rise in body temperature or emotional states such as anxiety, hyperhidrosis occurs without obvious causes such as exercise or heat. The condition can affect just one area or the whole body, with symptoms including clammy palms and visible sweat that soaks through clothes.
What are the symptoms of hyperhidrosis?
Rather than affecting the apocrine sweat glands (which create the odour causing sweat you get under the arms), hyperhidrosis affects the eccrine (water-producing) sweat glands and is divided into two types:
1) Primary or localised hyperhidrosis: The most common type of hyperhidrosis (primary) which tends to start in childhood or teenage years and can improve with age. This type affects certain parts of the body only, with the palms, soles of feet, armpits, face and scalp the most likely places to experience excessive sweating. The cause is not completely clear, but hyperhidrosis has been recognised as a feature of some rare inherited conditions, with up to a third of people with hyperhidrosis thought to have a family member with the condition.
2) Secondary or generalised hyperhidrosis affects the whole body and is caused by side effects of a medication or another medical condition, although occasionally, no cause can be found.
How will hyperhidrosis be diagnosed?
As this is a medical condition, you will need to visit your GP if you suspect you have hyperhidrosis. They may suggest you have tests to rule out other possible causes including infection, diabetes or thyroid overactivity before making a diagnosis.
Can hyperhidrosis be cured?
Hyperhidrosis appears to get better with increasing age but in the meantime, there are many treatments that help reduce sweating.
Most people with this condition try antiperspirants as a starting point. Antiperspirants work to reduce sweating, differentiating from deodorants, which minimise odour. If this doesn’t help, ask your doctor for advice. Your GP may then suggest medication to manage your condition including anticholinergic drugs which block the nerves that trigger sweating. There are also surgical options including endoscopic thoracic sympathectomy for cases that do not respond to other forms of treatment.
Sweating can also be blocked by injecting Botulinum toxin (one brand name is “Botox”) into the skin. This is an increasingly popular treatment option and is usually considered to work well, with the effect usually lasting 2-6 months. Check back in with The Mini SKINday Times next week, where we will examine this option more closely.
There are several ways you can help manage the condition yourself, including:
Avoiding your triggers: For example, excessive sweating triggers may be brought on by being in hot places or consuming alcohol and spicy foods.
Using adhesive absorbent underarm pads to help prevent sweat from becoming visible on clothing.
Opting for loose-fitting clothes and those made of natural fibres. Select colours wisely - black or white coloured clothes are more likely to minimise signs of sweating.
Avoiding tight-fitting shoes and invest in absorbent insoles.
Using an antiperspirant and washing regularly.
Wearing socks made from natural fibres or made from fabrics incorporating silver (which has been claimed to reduce odours).
Working to minimise anxiety – many people feel embarrassed when experiencing symptoms but as anxiety can worsen sweating, worrying about sweating can make the problem worse.