Hyperhidrosis: What causes excessive sweating and how to deal with it?


Feeling the heat? (Picture: Getty/Metro.co.uk)

When the weather is hot, a little bit of sweating is to be expected.

It’s important we normalise having a slight sheen or a case of sweaty upper lip.

But for some people, the hot weather means more than a little bit of dampness.

For these people, the hot weather can be an anxiety-inducing happenstance, as they know that while others rejoice over sunshine, they’ll soon be drenched in sweat.

This is hyperhidrosis – the medical name for excessive sweating.

What is hyperhidrosis?

It’s tricky to define how much sweat is too much sweat, so often it’s the context that’s used to diagnose this condition. It’s common to sweat if you’re very hot or are exercising, but this should usually stop once your body has had time to adjust and cool down. When you have hyperhidrosis, the sweat just keeps going.

Hyperhidrosis is also often diagnosed based on how your sweat impacts your life. It’s advised that you seek medical help if:

  • Sweating disrupts your daily routine
  • Nothing seems to help reduce your sweating
  • Excessive sweating happens at least once a week
  • Sweating causes emotional distress, social withdrawal, or anxiety

‘When people have hyperhidrosis, they have the normal number of sweat glands but, their sympathetic response is higher due to over-signalling of the responsible nerves,’ explains Dr Yassine Bendiabdallah, the co-founder of ZEN Healthcare. ‘This means that when they begin to perspire, they overproduce sweat.’

Hyperhidrosis can affect certain areas of your body more than others.

The most common places to suffer excessive sweating are the hands, feet, and armpits, as these areas have the most sweat glands, but you might also notice a lot of wetness on your pubic area, face, and scalp.

Why do people suffer from excessive sweating?

‘Hyperhidrosis can affect people for no obvious reason, however if a member of your family suffers, you may be more prone to the condition,’ explains Dr Yassine. ‘Other reasons for excessive sweating might be because of another condition you have, or as a side effect of a medicine you are taking.’

Some antidepressants, for example, can trigger excess sweating and overheating. If excessive sweating is a new problem for you, take a look at what new medications you may be on.

Anxiety can also cause excess sweating – which is a deeply unfair irony, because in turn the excess sweat can make you more anxious.

If you aren’t sure of the cause of your sweating – or just want confirmation that yes, this is an excessive amount of fluid to be shedding – talk to your GP. They will be able to diagnose your symptoms and refer you for a test if they think it might be caused by another condition.

If you are unsure about why you are sweating, speak to your GP who will be able to help diagnose your symptoms, or refer you for a test if they think that it may be caused by another condition.

man covered in sweat

Stress, spicy food, and alcohol can make hyperhidrosis worse (Picture: Getty Images)

What professional treatments are there for hyperhidrosis?

A doctor might recommend that you take tablets to reduce sweating, treat the affected areas with a weak electric current, or, in extreme cases, undergo surgery to remove the sweat glands.

Another common option is botox injections, which work to block excess nerve signals to the sweat glands and thus reduce the amount of sweat the body releases.

Botox injections aren’t a permanent fix, and will need topping up, but can be a real game-changer for those struggling with constant dripping.

Dr Yassine, who offers this treatment, explains that patients who have these injections tend to notice their sweat reducing within a couple of days, and that the results vary between individuals but generally last between four and 12 months before a top-up is required.

What else can I do to tackle excessive sweating?

Before you go for medical treatments, make sure to try at-home remedies, which can be super effective.

‘One of the easiest things you can do is avoid soap-based products and use emollient washes instead,’ recommends Dr Yassine. ‘These can be bought from a pharmacy without a prescription and will help to soothe and hydrate your skin, locking in moisture.

‘Another easy swap is to use antiperspirant instead of deodorant. Unlike deodorant which simply masks smell, antiperspirant contains aluminium chloride which helps to block the tubes leading from the sweat glands to the skin.

‘Certain materials inside clothing including shoes and socks can also increase the likelihood of sweating.

‘Avoid man-made synthetics and try buying clothes made from natural fibres like linen, cotton and silk – these will help your skin to breathe. Loose fitting clothes in black or white will also help to minimise signs of sweat.

‘Ingesting spicy foods, caffeine and alcohol can also contribute to excessive sweating, so it’s best to limit your intake of these as much as possible.’

If your excessive sweating is prompted by anxiety, working on your stress levels will be a massive help. Talk to a doctor about accessing therapy, and learn relaxation techniques – such as breathing exercises – that work for you.

Beyond reducing your sweating, make sure you’re looking after yourself in the heatwave, especially if you struggle with hyperhidrosis.

Ensure that when the weather is hot you’re staying hydrated, as all that sweating does mean you’re losing fluids, take it easy and avoid overexertion, and be kind to yourself. Remember that sweating is a normal bodily function, and stressing about perspiration will only make it worse.

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