Hyperhidrosis (Excessive sweating)

Sweating is a natural function of the body, and it is the mechanism triggered by the nervous system to cool itself down when body temperature rises, such as during exercise, or in warm weather.

Overview

Sweating can also occur when people are nervous, and in these instances, it can especially affect the palms of the hands – which may also unfortunately increase the individual’s discomfort and anxiety.

Hyperhidrosis, however, is abnormal and excessive sweating that is not necessarily as a result of heat or exercise, and often people with the condition may sweat so much that it regularly soaks through clothes, or leaves their hands dripping.

When there is no discernible cause for excessive sweating, the condition is known as primary hyperhidrosis; but when a cause can be identified (for example, when the body is fighting an infection; a person has anxiety; sweating is a side-effect of medication; or a woman is going through pregnancy or menopause), it is called secondary hyperhidrosis.

While hyperhidrosis itself isn’t generally a serious health risk, as a result of the chronic and sometimes unpredictable nature of the condition, many patients find that it negatively impacts their quality of life, their abilities to perform daily tasks, and their self-confidence – particularly as the stress of experiencing and managing excessive sweating can intensify the problem.

It may be reassuring to those who suffer with hyperhidrosis to know that it can usually be treated, and that there are online support resources that may be helpful, like KnowSweat, the international hyperhidrosis society. Several celebrities – including Oscar-winning actress Halle Berry - have shared their own hyperhidrosis stories to help destigmatise the condition.

Usually people with hyperhidrosis have already tried many over the counter products, but may find prescription-strength antiperspirants or other topical treatments to be helpful, and these can be prescribed by a GP.

If antiperspirants don't help, different medications or therapies may be the answer, and sometimes a referral to a dermatologist is needed to reduce the overproduction of sweat.

Symptoms of Hyperhidrosis

Primary hyperhidrosis (also called primary focal hyperhidrosis) often begins in childhood or adolescence, and usually affects the hands, feet, underarms or face.

Sweating is typically symmetrical, meaning it occurs in the same places on both sides of the body.

By contrast, secondary hyperhidrosis (also called secondary generalised hyperhidrosis) usually starts in adulthood, and widely affects the body - typically as a result of an underlying medical condition, or a side effect of medication.

People with secondary hyperhidrosis can often experience ‘night sweats’ while sleeping, whereas primary hyperhidrosis sufferers’ episodes occur almost exclusively when they are awake.

In some cases, excessive sweating can be a sign of a more serious condition, and it is important to seek immediate medical attention in the event that heavy sweating is accompanied by lightheadedness, chest pain or nausea.

Causes of Hyperhidrosis

In primary hyperhidrosis, the nerves that signal the sweat glands to produce sweat become overactive, even when there is no trigger, such as physical exertion or a rise in temperature.

Stress or anxiety tends to exacerbate the problem, and there is no medical cause. Sometimes genetics can play a role – for example, if an individual’s parents have experienced problems with hyperhidrosis, they may be more likely to have the same trouble.

Secondary hyperhidrosis typically occurs as a result of an underlying medical condition, or a side effect of medication, and it may cause widespread sweating all over the body, even at night, while an individual is sleeping.

Some conditions that commonly cause secondary hyperhidrosis are;

  • Infection
  • Pregnancy or menopause in women
  • Problems relating to the thyroid gland
  • Low blood sugar
  • Diabetes
  • Some types of cancer
  • Conditions relating to the nervous system
  • Heart attack

Certain medications also can lead to excessive sweating, and stopping taking medication can also contribute to secondary hyperhidrosis – for example, during opioid withdrawal.

Treatment of Hyperhidrosis at Derma

Your appointment will begin with an examination and discussion of your medical history, followed by the dermatologist’s recommended treatment options. The dermatologist will explain all of the potential side-effects of each hyperhidrosis treatment, to enable you to select the best treatment option for you. Please note that further tests or follow-up appointments will be required depending on the type of treatment.

Some people with hyperhidrosis may respond to prescription antiperspirants or to other types of topical treatment, whereas others may need to undergo routine injections of botulinum toxin, which prevents the nerves from activating the sweat glands. The latter treatment has a high success rate, and lasts 2-6 months, however some patients find that the longer they have undergone treatment with botulinum toxin, the longer the effects last, and thus they require treatment less frequently as time goes on.

It may also be possible to have Iontophoresis, which involves passing a current through the skin in a way that is painless, to try and stop the sweating. This treatment is performed in regular intervals over the course of several weeks. Iontophoresis can be used to treat the armpits, palms of the hands and soles of the feet.

 

There are also treatments that use controlled microwave technology to destroy the overactive sweat glands without the need for surgery, but they may not be appropriate for every patient.

If a patient has secondary hyperhidrosis, it may be suitable to take prescription tablets to reduce the excessive sweating.

In some rare cases in patients with severe hyperhidrosis, surgery is necessary to treat the condition, but this would only performed when all other avenues have been exhausted. Whatever your needs, you can rest assured that Derma will provide the very best care for your skin, with access to the latest research and treatments. We have a very high success rate in treating hyperhidrosis, with almost all patients seeing significant improvements delivered over time.

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For more information, or to book an appointment with Derma, please call the clinic or contact us.

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