Sweating is a vital function, which regulates the temperature of the body in warm conditions or when exercising, but some people do suffer from abnormalities with this system and can sweat excessively even when they are not actually hot. This condition is known as hyperhidrosis.
There are two main types of hyperhidrosis, primary or secondary. Primary hyperhidrosis is more common and causes sweating in specific points of the body, mainly the feet, hands, and armpits. Sweating is regulated by the sympatic nervous system and those that suffer from primary hyperhidrosis are often genetically predisposed to an over sensitive system, that triggers sweat unnecessarily, causing the sweat glands to be overactive. Secondary hyperhidrosis is less common and can be a symptom of an underlying medical condition such as an overactive thyroid. This causes excessive sweating across the whole of the body and can also be triggered as a side effect of some prescribed drugs such as antidepressants.
The degree of sweating with both types of hyperhidrosis can vary over time, and in the case of primary hyperhidrosis, the condition may even disappear for a while completely. Certain things such as anxiety, fear or excitement, and also some spicy foods can trigger excessive sweating. If you do sufferer from hyperhidrosis it is also best not to expose yourself to unnecessarily hot conditions as this will exacerbate the condition, such as very hot baths or showers or exposure to prolonged sunlight.
Hyperhidrosis can be a very embarrassing condition, which can start in the vulnerable teenage years. Therefore there are also some significant psychological symptoms associated with hyperhidrosis, such as social withdrawal, anxiety and even depression. It is important that you address both the physical and psychological symptoms of hyperhidrosis, as being in an anxious or fearful state can actually trigger and prolong the condition.
If you suffer from mild hyperhidrosis, then there are a number of over the counter treatments available. Regular antiperspirants help to block the sweat glands and prevent them from excreting so much fluid, and this can be reapplied regularly throughout the day. Sweat is not in itself smelly, but it does encourage the growth of bacteria on the skin that produces unpleasant smelling fatty acids, and so you should wash at least twice a day and after exercising to minimize this. Regular deodorants can help mask the smell of stale sweat as well but are not a substitute for washing. There have been some reports in recent years about links to antiperspirants and an increased risk of breast cancer, and if you have any worries about using these products you should consult your medical advisor.
In some cases, regular antiperspirants will not be strong enough to combat even mild hyperhidrosis, and there are some stronger treatments available over the counter, which include the ingredient aluminum chloride. These are applied at night to dry skin and have a stronger blocking effect on the sweat glands than regular antiperspirants.
If you suffer from severe hyperhidrosis you will need to consult your doctor who will be able to advise you on some of the more permanent treatments that are available.