Most people sweat when they exercise or the weather is hot.
But some people sweat far more than is otherwise considered “normal”.
Getty – Contributor Many hyperhidrosis sufferers will experience sweaty palms
Hyperhidrosis – excessive sweating – can be a devastating condition that has a huge impact on quality of life.
It can even prevent those who have it from carrying out everyday tasks, explains Louise Dunford, Director of the Institute of Allied Health Sciences Research, De Montfort University.
For some it has affected their relationships. Others are so embarrassed by their sweating that they feel unable to leave their house.
What are the symptoms of hyperhidrosis?
Sweating is a normal physiological process that helps the body to regulate its temperature.
When we get too hot or exercise, sweat evaporates from the skin and has a cooling effect.
People often also notice they sweat when they are anxious or are in a situation that makes them nervous.
But for the roughly 3 per cent of people who have hyperhidrosis, sweating can be almost constant.
The most common areas of the body affected by hyperhidrosis are hands, feet, underarms, face, and head, although other areas can be affected too.
Some people with hyperhidrosis sweat all over, rather than in just some parts of the body.
People with hyperhidrosis often sweat in situations where other people don’t, for example, when the weather is cold.
What causes it?
It is not known what causes hyperhidrosis, although it is thought that the nerves that usually make us sweat become over-active.
Hyperhidrosis often starts in childhood or adolescence, but can start at any time during life.
There is probably a genetic element as well, as there is often a family history in people who have excessive sweating of the hands.
The hyperhidrosis do’s and don’tsThe NHS has outlined some dos and don’ts to help minimise the effects of hyperhidrosis. These are:
wear loose-fitting clothes to minimise signs of sweating
wear socks that absorb moisture and change your socks at least twice a day if possible
wear leather shoes and try to wear different shoes day to day
wear tight clothes or man-made fabrics e.g. nylon
wear enclosed boots or sports shoes that may cause your feet to sweat more
do things that might make your sweating worse e.g. drinking alcohol or eating spicy food
Without a clear understanding of what causes hyperhidrosis, it is more challenging to find effective treatments.
That is why colleagues and I have been researching the condition.
We asked people with hyperhidrosis and healthcare professionals who treat them what questions they would like research to answer.
We had 268 people come forward to suggest nearly 600 research questions.
We found that hyperhidrosis has a wide range of severity.
Impact on life quality
At the mild end of the spectrum, the effects may be minimal – a small inconvenience or minor embarrassment.
But as severity increases, the impact on quality of life becomes much more substantial.
And the condition can have a huge impact on quality of life, affecting people’s career choices and leading to social isolation.
For example, some people have such sweaty hands that it makes it difficult to hold a pen or use a keyboard.
Many people feel embarrassed by their sweating and some people have avoided forming intimate relationships due to thisLouise DunfordDirector of the Institute of Allied Health Sciences Research, De Montfort University
People with hyperhidrosis often have anxiety in work situations such as job interviews or meetings where they might be expected to shake hands.
Their social life can also be affected, with many people feeling embarrassed by their sweating, and some people have avoided forming intimate relationships due to this.
Some people have to change their clothes several times.
Many people with hyperhidrosis don’t seek medical help due to the stigma of the condition. They may not even know it is a medical condition at all.
Those that do often report difficulties in being taken seriously, lack of access to specialists, and treatment being considered a low priority.How can hyperhidrosis be treated?
There are a number of treatments available for hyperhidrosis, which depend upon the area of the body affected. Temporary treatments include:
Strong antiperspirants containing aluminium chloride
Iontophoresis, where the affected areas are placed in water and a low voltage electrical current passed through it
Botox, which works by blocking a chemical at the nerve endings, so it can’t activate the sweat glands
Oral medications, called anti-cholinergics, which also work by blocking the nerve endings, throughout the body
But these are all temporary, and do not work for everyone.
The antiperspirants can cause skin irritation, and oral medication blocks nerve endings throughout the body, so can cause side effects such as a dry mouth and problems urinating.
Botox and iontophoresis, meanwhile, need to be repeated regularly and can be expensive.
There are also some more permanent solutions available.
Getty – Contributor Excessive sweating is an condition known as hyperhidrosis and it can be a nightmare for sufferers
Some sufferers have had surgery to remove or destroy sweat glands in a localised area, such as the armpits, or endoscopic thoracic sympathectomy (ETS), where the nerves that control sweating are cut.
ETS is effective in reducing the sweating of the areas intended, but can lead to very serious side effects such as damage to nerves or organs.
Most patients end up with some level of sweating in other areas, known as compensatory sweating, and this can be worse than the original problem, so this surgery is generally only used as a last resort.
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A newer permanent treatment uses electromagnetic energy to destroy sweat glands.
Despite being a common skin condition, hyperhidrosis is not widely known about, and research is very poorly funded.
Raising awareness is key if people are to feel comfortable enough to come forward to ask for help and advice.
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