This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Contact a qualified medical professional before engaging in any physical activity, or making any changes to your diet, medication or lifestyle.
There’s nothing unusual about sweating, especially while you're outside in the heat. But for some people, it can cause a lot of discomfort and affect their quality of life.
“We sweat to get rid of excess heat so that our vital organs can function at optimal temperatures and not overheat,” says Dr. Benjamin Barankin, a Toronto-based dermatologist who's also the medical director of the Toronto Dermatology Centre. “We sweat based on our genetics, and our level of fitness and number and size of sweat glands.”
While sweating is normal, excessive sweating is not — and can be a sign of a condition called hyperhidrosis. Dermatologists say not everyone is aware of what the condition is, and explain what people should look out for.
What is hyperhidrosis?
Hyperhidrosis is a disorder characterized by excessive sweating. The Toronto Sweat Clinic says people who suffer from the condition can produce up to four or five times the amount of sweat required to cool the body.
“Dermatologists will typically diagnose excessive sweating based on people sweating inappropriately (e.g. while watching TV or reading a book),” Barankin tells Yahoo Canada. “Any underlying condition like diabetes or thyroid disease, or hidden infection like tuberculosis, should be ruled out.”
There are two different types of hyperhidrosis, according to the Toronto Sweat Clinic.
Primary hyperhidrosis, also called focal hyperhidrosis, affects certain areas like the underarms, hands and face. The cause of this type of hyperhidrosis is unknown, but the Canadian Dermatology Association says it appears to be related to the over-activity of the central nervous system, which causes sweat glands to overstimulate.
Secondary hyperhidrosis, or generalized hyperhidrosis, doesn’t affect just one area of the body but commonly affects the entire body. Medication or medical conditions like menopause, metabolic disorders and certain types of cancer may be the cause.
The Canadian Dermatology Association says 950,000 Canadians, or about three per cent of the population, suffer from this condition.
How do you know if you sweat too much?
Sweating more during the summer months is not uncommon, but people who suffer from hyperhidrosis can be impacted by excessive sweating year-round.
According to the Toronto Sweat Clinic, you may be suffering from the disorder if you need to change your clothes multiple times a day due to sweat stains, if sweating interferes with your work and social activities or if you tend to avoid hugs and handshakes because physical contact makes you uncomfortable due to sweating.
Dr. Katie Beleznay, a dermatologist practicing in Vancouver, says if someone is concerned about excessive sweating, they should get it assessed by a doctor to rule out a medical condition.
“It is hard to quantify exactly how much is too much," she explains to Yahoo Canada. "If someone takes measures to reduce their sweating and does not find that it subsides, or if the level of sweat is interfering with their life and daily functions, socially or with their job, then I would encourage them to see a doctor about potential treatments.”
The Canadian Medical Association Journal notes that many people who suffer from hyperhidrosis don’t seek medical help because they are unaware that they have a treatable disorder.
How to treat excessive sweating
When it comes to treatment, there are several options available, and a dermatologist can help you decide which one is best.
Topical antiperspirants with aluminum salts, like DRYSOL, are typically the first line of treatment. These products will block the sweat ducts at the skin’s surface and prevent you from sweating too much.
“Another tip would be to try applying your antiperspirant at night. Your sweat glands are less active at night, which means it is easier for it to absorb into the skin than it is in the morning,” Beleznay advises.
Iontophoresis is another treatment which involves putting your hands or feet into a tray filled with water before receiving low-intensity electrical currents. This treatment does require maintenance up to four times a week.
Botox is one of the most common treatments for hyperhidrosis, according to the Canadian Plastic Surgery Centre. Botox will help block the nerves in the area where it is injected and reduce the amount of sweating in that spot. This treatment is not a permanent solution and will need to be repeated.
For someone who does not respond well to other treatments, surgery may be recommended. However, there are potential side effects to consider, and sweating in other areas of the body may occur following the procedure.
Other expert tips
Regulating your body temperature is the first step to sweating less, and Beleznay says you can do that by drinking plenty of water and wearing breathable clothes.
The dermatologist also notes that excessive sweating can be linked to obesity, and weight loss can sometimes help.
“When temperatures rise, people who are prone to excessive sweating should do their best to stay cool,” she adds. “For many people, the sweating will subside as cooler temperatures arrive in the fall. If you continue to experience excessive sweating throughout the year, then it may be time to see your doctor.”