Belfast Telegraph

Home Life Health

Is excessive sweating proving the pits? Fear not, help is at hand

It's a normal bodily function designed to keep us cool, but for one in every 100 men and women, problems with perspiration can be distressing. Experts explain what is known as hyperhidrosis to Kate Whiting.

Most of us have been feeling the heat over the past couple of weeks, and that quite likely means sweating more than usual, too.

While damp underarms and dripping brows can be embarrassing and uncomfortable, for some people, excessive perspiration can be a problem all year round, and the medical term for this is hyperhidrosis.

Normally, we can sweat up to one litre a day, but for excessive sweaters, the body's cooling mechanism goes into overdrive and can produce as much as four or five times what is needed to regulate temperature.

Armpits are the prime suspects, but the soles of the feet, face and palms are also areas with a high concentration of sweat glands, causing wet patches on clothes, clammy hands and smelly feet.

Hyperhidrosis affects around one in every 100 men and women and normally starts between the ages of 14 and 25 years.

It can run in families, with a third of sufferers having a family member with the condition. Dr Auldric Ratajczak, Nuffield Health's deputy medical director for well-being, says: "Primary hyperhidrosis is the name given to regular excess sweating for over six months, that doesn't have a clear underlying cause.

"Sweating can be caused by other conditions, such as menopause, cancer, tuberculosis, bacterial infections, some medication, hormonal and neurological conditions, as well as having a fever."


We've all woken up on a summer's night feeling hot and sticky, but Dr Ratajczak says the problem can be so severe, it can cause "serious social, emotional and professional consequences".

If any of the following are happening to you regularly, according to NHS Choices, you may have hyperhidrosis:

1. You avoid physical contact, such as shaking hands, because you feel self-conscious about your sweating.

2. You don't take part in activities, such as dancing or exercise, for fear they will make your sweating worse.

3. Excessive sweating is interfering with your day job - for example, you have difficulty holding tools or using a computer keyboard.

4. You're having problems with normal daily activities, such as driving.

5. You're spending a significant amount of time coping with sweating - for example, frequently showering and changing your clothes.

6. You become socially withdrawn and self-conscious.


Embarrassing Bodies' Dr Pixie McKenna has seen her fair share of people with hyperhidrosis, but she says many sit at home and suffer in silence.

"The fear and embarrassment of being 'discovered' can often be very stressful and cause sufferers to adopt corrective behaviours," she says. "Everyday life can be severely impacted, with avoidance of wearing certain types of clothing, the need to apply antiperspirant several times a day, repeated body washing, and also the worry about whether wetness or odour is obvious to others."

She adds that sweating can shape people's days, as they're conscious of it the moment they wake up, particularly during the summer months. "Clothing choices are a particular issue, sleeves are the order of the day for female suffers, whereas many males will simply keep their suit jackets on all day to avoid revealing sweat patches on their shirts. On first dates, special occasions or even standing up to give a presentation, perspiration can prove the most nerve-racking component of any activity."

It can impact on sufferers' confidence in relationships, too, and even lead to depression. "I have seen patients who have become increasingly anxious because of their symptoms, which only make matters worse, often resulting in even more sweating. Some sufferers become so self-conscious that they experience a downward spiral and become clinically depressed."


"Seek help, don't suffer in silence," advises Dr Pixie. "Stop focusing on banishing smells and start focusing on banishing sweat, with a high-strength antiperspirant containing aluminium chloride. Opt for something that is long-lasting and promises to protect you for hours, and ensure it's not only effective in terms of banishing sweat, but that it is also skin kind." (She recommends trying Perspirex Plus.)

Dr Ratajczak adds: "Reduce stimulants such as caffeine, tobacco and alcohol and wear loose-fitting clothes in natural fibres. Losing weight reduces the amount of sweat, too (only if you are overweight to begin with)."

Seeing your GP might be advisable too - especially if you are experiencing other symptoms as well. "If you feel unwell and have most of your sweating episodes at night, try to speak to your GP early on," says Dr Ratajczak. "For other cases, it is reasonable to start with lifestyle changes and try a higher dose aluminium antiperspirant from the chemist if your skin tolerates it. If it fails, seek further advice from your GP."

In some cases, drugs, such as betablockers (if appropriate) may be beneficial, and Botox can also be an effective temporary measure. Surgery can sometimes be used to treat very severe excessive sweating, too.

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