Coping with excessive sweating

Caroline Cassidy

Excessive sweating, or hyperhidrosis, rarely poses a threat to a sufferer's physical health, but this often embarrassing condition can be very distressing and ultimately have a negative impact on day-to-day life. If you are struggling to cope with the condition, here's what you need to know and what help is available.

coping with hyperhidrosis
coping with hyperhidrosis

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Defined as sweating more than is needed to regulate the body's temperature, hyperhidrosis commonly affects the armpits, palms of the hands, soles of the feet, face, back or abdomen. Some people experience problems in just one area while for others, excessive sweating occurs in more than one area. In some cases it even affects the whole body (known as generalised hyperhidrosis). When the condition begins to affect daily life, it is common for sufferers to feel anxiety, nervousness and fear, which may lead to depression.

It is thought that over-activity in the sympathetic nervous system, which uses sweat to regulate body temperature, is to blame for cases of primary hyperhidrosis. The condition can run in families - one in four sufferers have a close relative who is also affected. Many sufferers find that their symptoms are triggered by drinking alcohol or eating spicy foods.

There are, however, other causes associated with secondary hyperhidrosis, including the menopause or an over-active thyroid gland, and the NHS recommends that if you suddenly start sweating excessively or experience night sweats, you should visit your GP to discover the underlying cause.

Though little can be done to totally cure hyperhidrosis, there are treatments that can help. As a starting point, your GP may prescribe an antiperspirant containing aluminium chloride, which effectively blocks the sweat glands.

If you continue to struggle with the symptoms, however, further treatments are available. Iontophoresis, where a weak electric current (passed through a bowl of water) is thought to block the sweat glands, is very effective for problems associated with the hands and feet but does require regular treatment, usually at one to four week intervals. Botox is also used to reduce excessive sweating. In some cases it is available on the NHS and the effects usually last from two to eight months, after which time further treatment will be necessary.

A surgical procedure known as Video-assisted thoracic sympathectomy (VATS) is also used to treat the condition, and works by removing some of the nerve tissue that runs from the sympathetic nervous system to the affected areas, though it can only be used to treat armpits, face and hands and is only moderately successful.

Self help
As well as medical treatments there are a number of ways in which you can either reduce the visible signs of hyperhidrosis or at least make yourself more comfortable.

Avoid tight, restrictive clothing as this may exacerbate the symptoms, and opt for loose-fitting natural fibres like cotton, silk or wool, leather for feet. Black or white clothes are best at hiding the issue. Wearing an underlayer may help to absorb some of the sweat, but you may need to change clothes more than once a day. If your feet are a problem, always allow shoes time to dry out fully before you wear them again.

Sweat pads are also available that help to absorb underarm moisture, helping to hide the symptoms and protect your clothes.

And should you notice any particular triggers that start or worsen your symptoms, such as caffeine, alcohol or spicy foods, try to avoid them.

If you are worried about how to cope with hyperhidrosis, visit your GP for advice or contact the Hyperhidrosis Support Group to learn more about the treatments available.

Do you suffer from hyperhidrosis? How do you cope with the condition? Leave your comments below...