What is Hyperhidrosis?
Hyperhidrosis is a condition where the body produces excess sweat.
When the body’s temperature rises due to the an increase in room temperature, exertion, or feelings of stress or anxiety, the brain sends signals along nerves called “sympathetic nerves” to the small sweat glands in the skin. In hyperhidrosis this response is over activated, and cannot be regulated in the normal way. This causes the person to sweat excessively and at inappropriate times.
What are the symptoms of Hyperhidrosis?
Hyperhidrosis can either be localized or generalized.
Localised hyperhidrosis is the most common form of the condition. This is where the sweating is confined to certain body sites.
Areas most commonly affected by this type include armpits, palms of hands, soles of feet, face and chest, and groin, although the whole body may be affected. The condition usually affects both sides of the body equally so both hands or feet.
Generalised hyperhidrosis is where the condition affects the sweat glands of the whole body.
Differentiating this from a normal amount of sweating will depend on whether the person is experiencing a negative impact on their daily life such as having to change clothes several times a day, or hands becoming too sweaty to hold a pen. If the sweating is noticeably affecting your quality of life then advice should be sought.
Although the condition can be embarrassing and psychologically distressing, it poses no risk to general health.
What causes Hyperhidrosis?
The cause of localised hyperhidrosis is not known.
Generalised hyperhidrosis can be caused by a number of factors including some illnesses and infections, and overactive thyroid gland and hormonal conditions including the menopause. Some medications can also cause the condition, and in some cases these is no clear cause.
Anxiety can also be a trigger in both forms of hyperhidrosis.
Who is at risk of Hyperhidrosis?
The condition is estimated to affect around 1% of the population. It can affect people of any age, ethnicity or gender, although the localised form of the condition usually arises in childhood or adolescence and improves with age.
A link has been found to this type of the condition being hereditary, with up to a third of sufferers having a family member with the condition.
Menopausal women may also experience generalised hyperhidrosis, and it can be triggered by anxiety.
How would a dermatologist diagnose Hyperhidrosis?
A dermatologist would first give the patient a physical examination and review of medical history.
How would a dermatologist treat Hyperhidrosis?
For localised hyperhidrosisa Dermatologist may recommend a stronger preparation of the chemical aluminium chloride in antiperspirants. This can be used under arms, hands and feet and is applied at night.
A Dermatologist may recommend treatment with Iontophoresis, a method using an electric current applied to the affected area through water.
Botulinum toxin (commonly known as Botox) is one of the most effective ways to treat the localised forms of the condition affecting the armpits, as it blocks the action of the nerves which activates the sweat glands.
If all else fails then surgical methods may be considered to remove the overactive sweat glands, but these come with their own risks which need to be carefully considered and consulted upon.
Generalised hyperhidrosis cannot be treated with the methods above as they are too localised, but certain medication can help. Propantheline is the only anticholinergic drug licensed for hyperhidrosis; it blocks the signal between the nerves and the sweat glands. Some people do experience side effects from this medication.
It is also advised that people experiencing either form of the condition avoid the following things as much as possible to avoid making the sweating worse.
- Hot places
- Rushing around
- Spicy food
- Tight fitting clothes
- Soap based products
Clothing with absorbent under-layers is advised, as well as having a change of clothes and socks with you during your daily routine.
Where can I get patient support for Hyperhidrosis?