If you sweat too much, you may feel uncomfortable for many reasons. But if you suffer from excessive sweating, there are ways you can get treatment.
Sweating, or perspiration, is a normal body function. Your body’s sweat glands release liquid to help you stay cool. You commonly sweat during exercise, when it’s hot outside, or when feeling emotions like anger, fear, or embarrassment.
Sweat typically appears in areas like your face, your underarms, your palms, and your feet. Some people, though, sweat four to five times more than normal. When the sweat glands on your face, hands, and underarms release excessive sweat, it’s a condition known as hyperhidrosis — or over-perspiration.
Learn more about excessive sweating, when you should see a doctor, and how doctors diagnose and treat it.
Why Do I Sweat So Much?
About 4.8% of Americans suffer from excessive sweating, according to a study in the Archives of Dermatological Research. There are two different types of excessive sweating: primary hyperhidrosis and secondary hyperhidrosis.
Primary hyperhidrosis involves excessive sweating in your hands, feet, face, and armpits. Although it seems to run in families, scientists have not determined an actual cause.
Secondary hyperhidrosis results from a medical condition. This sweating can happen in one or more areas of the body. Conditions that may cause secondary hyperhidrosis include:
- Carcinoid syndrome
- Heart disease
- Lung disease
- Parkinson’s disease
- Substance abuse
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When Should I Be Concerned About Sweating?
People with excessive sweating can suffer a mental and social impact from their condition. They may feel embarrassed, ashamed, or uncomfortable around other people.
It may cause them to avoid certain activities like reading books or shaking hands. It can even cause difficulty with performing tasks like opening a doorknob.
Hyperhidrosis can cause you to sweat even in uncommon situations, like in cool weather or when you’re resting.
How do I know if my sweating is abnormal?
You should call your doctor if:
- Your sweating is excessive, ongoing, and unexplained.
- Your excessive sweating occurs in one or more areas of the body.
- Your excessive sweating occurs on both sides of your body (under both arms or on both feet).
- You are sweating in atypical situations.
- Your skin stays wet for long periods of time, turns soft or white, or peels in areas.
- Your sweating is causing related skin infections like athlete’s foot.
- You are experiencing other symptoms like chest pain, shortness of breath, fever, weight loss, or an irregular heartbeat. Those symptoms could be a sign that another health condition is causing your excessive sweating.
How Do Doctors Diagnose Excessive Sweating?
Doctors can diagnose hyperhidrosis in several ways.
Your visit may begin with a medical history, and your doctor will ask you about how much and how often you sweat. They may ask where and when your sweating occurs and whether you have any other symptoms.
Certain tests can also diagnose excessive sweating:
- Starch-iodine test: Clinicians apply iodine to the sweaty area. After it dries, they sprinkle starch over it. The solution turns to a dark blue or black color if there is excess sweat.
- Paper test: Clinicians put a special paper over the sweaty area to absorb the sweat, then weigh it. The heavier the paper weighs, the more sweat there is.
Doctors can also order blood or imaging tests if they think another condition may cause the excessive sweat.
How to Stop Excessive Sweating
If you suffer from excessive sweating that affects your everyday life, you can seek treatment for it. Several different options can help people with hyperhidrosis.
- Antiperspirants: Antiperspirants sit on top of your skin and plug your sweat glands when you sweat. This should signal to your body that it should stop producing sweat. This is often the first treatment option for excessive sweating. It can help with excessive sweating in many body areas. Depending on the severity of your condition, you may need a regular or extra-strength antiperspirant. You may need a prescription for a strong antiperspirant.
- Medications: Certain prescription medications can help restrict sweating throughout your body. They work by controlling your sweat glands.
- Botulinum toxin (Botox): Tiny injections of Botox under the arms can block a chemical in your body that stimulates your sweat glands. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved it as a treatment for excessive sweating under the arms. Botox can work within days and last for months.
- Iontophoresis: This device can help with excessive sweating of the hands and/or feet. You place your hands or feet in water, and a gentle electric current passes through it. Iontophoresis requires several sessions, which can last between 10 and 30 minutes.
- Surgery: Multiple surgical options can help treat excessive sweating. For excessive sweating under the arms, a dermatologist can surgically remove sweat glands. It requires only local anesthesia, and a dermatologist can perform it in their office. Doctors also can perform another procedure, called a sympathectomy. For a sympathectomy, a surgeon will cut or destroy nerves that send signals to your sweat glands. It works best for palm sweating, but it also can help with arm sweating and facial sweating.
American Academy of Dermatology Association, Hyperhidrosis. Link
James Doolittle, Patricia Walker, Thomas Mills, Jane Thurston, Archives of Dermatological Research, Hyperhidrosis: An Update on Prevalence and Severity in the United States. Link
U.S. National Library of Medicine, Hyperhidrosis. Link
U.S. National Library of Medicine, Sweating. Link
The UPMC Department of Dermatology diagnoses, treats, and manages numerous hair, skin, and nail conditions and diseases. We care for common and uncommon conditions, and our treatments include both surgical and nonsurgical options. We operate several specialty centers for various conditions. The UPMC Cosmetic Surgery and Skin Health Center is a comprehensive dermatologic laser facility, offering a full range of cosmetic services and procedures. With UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, we offer a Skin Cancer Program that provides complete care from screenings, diagnosis, treatment, and beyond. Find a dermatology provider near you.