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Our skin contains up to four million sweat glands, which function as thermoregulators to remove excess body heat. Most of these sweat glands are in the forehead and in the upper limbs, the upper trunk and the lower limbs. However, we also have them in other parts of the body, including the palms and soles of our feet. Our sweat glands can produce as much as 3 liters of sweat per hour during extreme temperatures and exercise, but on the average, we usually sweat at a rate of 1 liter per hour, depending on the temperature and physical activity. We also normally sweat when we have a fever or when we are under stress, or when we feel anxious or nervous. Our bodies have a way of regulating the amount of sweat we produce, so when there is no stimulus to sweat, the nerves to our sweat glands stop producing signals for the glands to produce sweat.

For some people however, sweating seems to be uncontrollable - they sweat even if the ambient temperature is not hot, or even if they are calm and not exercising. They also produce greater volumes of sweat than other people, making them very uncomfortable and often times, embarrassed. This condition is called hyperhidrosis, or excessive sweating.

What Causes Excessive Sweating?

Some people are born with this condition, which tends to run in families. These people often produce a lot of sweat from their hands, feet, underarms, and face even without exercising or even in cold temperatures. Stress increases their sweating, but even when they are calm, their hands or foreheads may be dripping wet. Doctors explain that the nerves controlling the sweat glands are overactive and sensitive, but the cause is uncertain.

Other people have a condition called secondary hyperhidrosis, which means that they sweat excessively as a result of another medical condition such as an overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism).

Treatment for Hyperhidrosis

Most people who sweat profusely use over-the-counter antiperspirants, which may also have anti-deodorant action. These products may be used not only in the underarms, but also in other parts of the body such as the hands and feet. If you need a stronger preparation ask your doctor to prescribe one for you.

Medical treatments for uncontrollable sweating include:

  • Botox injections, which helps prevent the activation of sweat glands

  • Iontophoresis, which uses a low electrical current to block sweat from getting to the surface of the skin

  • Oral anticholinergic medications, which prevent the activation of your sweat glands; however, they may have some side effects such as heart palpitations, urinary problems and blurred vision

Surgical treatment for severe hyperhidrosis involves cutting, scraping, or suctioning out the sweat glands from the skin. Another method is called endoscopic thoracic sympathectomy, which involves cutting the nerves that activate sweat glands in the armpit through very small skin incisions. One problem with this type of treatment is that scarring can occur and the body may compensate by sweating in other parts of the body.

Other ways to cope with heavy sweating includes:

  • avoiding drinking alcohol, coffee or tea

  • avoiding spicy foods

  • bathing daily with antibacterial soap

  • using light clothing

  • bringing extra clothes to work

  • using absorbent liners in the shoes and underarms

  • rotating the use of shoes

  • choosing cotton or wool socks and clothes

  • doing relaxation techniques such as yoga and meditation

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