Excessive sweating is perspiring a lot without much effort. This can happen over the entire body, but usually it is limited to certain parts of the body. Frequent perspiring is nasty and often unpleasant, due to the body odor that is released. In some people, sweat production is so high that it disturbs daily life.
The cause of excessive sweating is usually not known. The trigger for sweating probably originates in the brains. Heredity plays a role: in thirty to fifty percent of people with excessive sweating, it is common in the family.
When all sweat glands over the entire body are excessively active, the cause is usually an underlying problem. This may be overweight, menopause, a (chronic) infection such as tuberculosis, hormonal conditions such as excessive operation of the thyroid, cancer, or the use of certain medications. Excessive sweating can occur under the influence of psychological factors. It usually starts in puberty and symptoms remain for several decades.
In case of excessive sweating, certain body areas are often very humid due to excessive sweat production. This may be in the palms of the hands, in the armpits, on the scalp and in the face, on the torso, in the groin or on the soles of the feet. The excessive perspiration can be accompanied by an unpleasant odor. This odor is caused by bacteria that are growing in number and emit an odor. The unpleasant odor from sweaty feet is often a big problem. The skin of sweaty feet is easily infected by fungi and bacteria.
Excessive sweating can lead to emotional and psychosocial problems, including decreased self-confidence, social isolation and depression. For example, one dare not give hands anymore. Apart from the psychological impact, excessive sweating can also cause an irritated skin, for example in the groin.
It is possible to get an impression of the amount of sweat secretion with the sweat test (starch-iodine test). In this test, the skin is thoroughly dried and rubbed with an iodine solution. Next, starch is sprinkled over the skin. Starch reacts with iodine in the presence of sweat, giving a dark blue or black discoloration. Usually, however, such a test is not needed.
In case of excessive sweating, the following treatments are available:
- Local treatment with a solution of aluminum chloride may well help in reducing the excessive perspiration of the hands and feet and in the armpits. By applying aluminum chloride onto the skin, the excretory ducts of the sweat glands become clogged.
- Iontophoresis is a method in which the hands and feet are immersed in water, where a weak electric charge is passed through. Specially designed sponge-like applicators can be used for the armpits, the face and the back.
- A relatively new treatment option is to block the sweat secretion using botulinum toxin. This is a poison that is produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum 3/4. This protein blocks the signal transfer at the transition from nerve to muscle and at the transition from nerve to sweat gland. By keeping the nerve blocked, the sweat glands stop producing sweat.
- Anticholinergics are drugs that suppress the activity of the sweat glands via the nerves.
- Surgery. Much more radically is sympathectomy. Here, some nerve nodes or nerve bundles are blocked or cut. They are often first blocked. This has only a temporary effect of one to two years. When the result is good, there can be chosen for cutting the nerve bundles, which will have a permanent effect.
The condition usually remains several years, sometimes for life. When all sweat glands over the entire body are excessively active, it usually disappears when the underlying cause can be taken away.
- Wear airy, cool cotton clothing as much as possible in case of excessive sweating of the armpits and groin.
- Wear, if possible, open shoes in case of excessive sweating of the feet.
- Use deodorant or other anti-sweat resources.
- Keep the environmental temperature cool and ensure proper ventilation.
- Avoid foods that cause perspiration, such as strongly spiced dishes.
- Avoid stress and do relaxation exercises, if necessary.
- The term ‘hyperhidrosis’ is derived from the Greek prefix hupér- (over, beyond, excessive) and the Greek word hidrosis (sweating).
- The prevalence of excessive sweating is approximately 2.5%.
- The condition is more common in women older than 65 years.