Sweat, or perspiration, is the salty liquid produced by our sweat glands. Sweat plays a major role in cooling our body. It is the body's natural way of regulating temperature. How much a person sweats depends on the number of sweat glands he has. Women have more sweat glands than men, but men sweat more because their sweat glands are more active.
While these glands are found in the skin throughout the body, they are present in higher numbers in the skin of our hands, feet and armpits. Our body produces more sweat when the temperature rises, when we exercise, or when we are faced with certain social conditions which make us feel nervous, angry, afraid, anxious or embarrassed. Eating spicy foods also triggers excessive sweating. Excessive sweating may occur due to onset of puberty also.
Cause of excessive sweating
Sometimes, excessive sweating occurs without any apparent external cause. A person perspires excessively sans any apparent trigger. This condition is called Hyperhidrosis. A person with this condition can sweat even when the temperature is cool or even when he is asleep. Hyperhidrosis occurs due to overactive sweat glands. Such uncontrollable sweating can cause physical as well as emotional trauma. It affects nearly 1% of our population. Men and women are equally affected. Medically, there are two types of Hyperhidrosis - Primary Hyperhidrosis and Secondary Hyperhidrosis.
Primary Hyperhidrosis: In this condition there is excessive sweating of the hands (especially palms), feet and armpit. No apparent cause has been found for this condition.
Secondary Hyperhidrosis: In this condition, excessive sweating is the result of some other medical condition. The sweating may occur through the body or it may be localized to any particular area. There are many medical conditions which cause this condition. Some of the common causes of this kind of excessive sweating include:
- Menopause symptoms such as hot flush
- Hypoglycemic attack
- Overactive thyroid
- Diseases like malaria, flu, pneumonia, tuberculosis
- Heart disease
- Certain medications
- Drug/alcohol withdrawal
It is essential to contact your health provider if you notice prolonged and excessive sweating that is accompanied by chest pain or shortness of breath. When excessive sweating is accompanied by significant weight loss, do not ignore it.
Care during excessive sweating bouts
After care: After an episode of excessive sweating, a person should wash his/her face and body. Clothes and bed sheets need to be changed and the room temperature needs to be adjusted to prevent further sweating. The lost body fluids should be replaced by drinking plenty of water.
Medical care: Before commencing treatment, your doctor will conduct a few tests to diagnose excessive sweating. The primary symptom of hyperhidrosis is wetness.
Starch-iodine test: In this test, an iodine solution is applied to the sweaty area. Next, starch is sprinkled on it after the area dries off. The solution turns a dark blue color if there is excess sweat.
Paper test: Special paper is placed on the sweaty area. The paper absorbs the sweat and becomes heavier. Depending upon its weight, the doctor determines whether the patient is suffering from hyperhidrosis or not.
Treatment for Hyperhidrosis
Antiperspirants: Excessive perspiration may be controlled by the use of anti-perspirants. These products contain 10-15% aluminium chloride hexahydrate. They are applied to the affected areas and they help prevent sweat by plugging the sweat ducts. The side effects of this treatment include skin irritation and damage to clothing.
Medication and drugs: Patients suffering from hyperhidrosis are prescribed anticholinergics drugs such as glycopyrrolate, which help prevent the stimulation of sweat glands. Side effects include dizziness, dry mouth and problems with urination.
Iontophoresis: In this method, electricity is used to switch off the sweat gland, although temporarily. It is most effective for treating the hands and feet. The hands or feet are placed in water and an electric current of mild intensity is passed through it. The electricity is gradually increased till the patient feels a light tingling sensation. This therapy takes about 10-20 minutes and is approved by the FDA. Several sessions may be required. Side effects of this procedure include skin cracking and blisters.
Botox: Botulinum toxin is primarily used to treat severe under arm sweating. Small doses of purified Botox are injected in the affected area to temporarily block the nerves that stimulate sweating. Side effects include injection site pain, swelling and flu like symptoms. It should be noted that injecting Botox is not a permanent solution and symptoms may recur after a few months.
Endoscopic thoracic sympathectomy (ETS): Patients with severe symptoms who fail to respond to the above mentioned non-surgical remedies can be referred for surgery. The goal of this surgery is to eliminate the constant stimulation of the sweat glands while minimizing trauma to the surrounding tissue. That is, this surgery aims to turn off the signal which tells the body to sweat excessively. A tiny camera, called an endoscope, is inserted to help the surgeon to find the nerve connected with the overactive gland.
The nerve is then removed and destroyed.. Patients are allowed to leave the hospital after 24-48 hours but may experience pain for about a week. This procedure is especially helpful in patients with excessively sweaty palms. Risks include nerve or artery damage, site infection and also increased sweating. Hence, it is vital to get the surgery done by a trained and reputed specialist surgeon.
Home remedy: Boil 5 tea bags in a quart of water for 5 minutes. After the solution cools, soak your hands and feet in it for 30 minutes. Tea contains tannic acid. The astringent properties of tannic acid perform the role of an antiperspirant and may help in sweat reduction.
While there are many who literally want to sweat it out, there are a few people who dread the sweat. Excessive sweating affects their ability to interact effectively with anybody and has a major negative impact on their social interactions. But, taking the right medications and treatment, both surgical and non-surgical, will definitely pave the way for a new beginning in their social life. It has been found out that less than 40% of patients suffering from hyperhidrosis take medical help.