Written by: Deen Kurrimbux

A common condition whereby an individual perspires excessively. This can either be the entire body or in areas. While not a serious threat to the individual’s health it is seen as a socially unacceptable trait which can be embarrassing and in some cases lead to depression. While there is no clear-cut definition of excessive sweating, normal daily activities that cause the individual to sweat more than usual may indicate that the individual may be suffering from hyperhidrosis.

hyperhidrosis palms

In many cases hyperhidrosis has no known causes (idiopathic), however it is thought there is a link with an abnormality in the nervous system (primary hyperhidrosis). The particular part of the nervous system is called the sympathetic nervous system; it controls functions in the body that do not require thought to perform and thus can be done completely autonomously. One of these functions is regulating the temperature of the body and the sympathetic nervous system does this by controlling a specific type of sweat gland called the eccrine glands. These glands are found in the armpits, hands, face and groin of individuals. Secondary hyperhidrosis has underlying causes and these can be pregnancy, hypoglycaemia (low blood glucose level), anxiety, infections, obesity and reactions to medications such as beta blockers (used to treat high blood pressure and heart complications).

Hyperhidrosis increases the chance of developing fungal infections in particular on the feet (athlete’s foot and fungal nail infections). Fungal infections can be treated with antifungal creams. Excessive perspiration can make the sufferer more vulnerable to skin conditions such as warts (caused by the human papilloma virus) and boils (inflamed area from and infected hair follicle). Eczema is also exacerbated by excess sweating.

The emotional impact of living with hyperhidrosis can lead to depression and anxiety. Some of the tell-tale signs of depression are always feeling negative, sadness, hopelessness. If these symptoms are present, it is important to visit a local healthcare professional.

It is possible to treat hyperhidrosis though depending on the circumstances and conditions, it is not always straightforward and some treatments carry with them serious complications. Lifestyle changes can be a starting point for control of excessive sweating: wearing loose clothing, avoiding alcohol and spicy foods, using antiperspirants rather than deodorants wear natural fibres instead of synthetics especially on the feet to help absorb the moisture.

A type of drug called anticholinergics is prescribed as a treatment if the sweating continues unabated. Anticholinergics are applied to the affected areas as solutions. Though possible side effects of anticholinergics include a dry mouth, blurred vision, stomach cramps, constipation and difficulty passing urine.

Another treatment is iontophoresis – passing a weak electric current through water while the hands and feet are submerged. It is thought to help block the pores of the sweat glands. Iontophoresis is effective when undertaken several times during a weekly period.

Botulinum toxin (botox) can be injected into the skin in areas of the body affected by hyperhidrosis. The effect lasts for several months after which it is necessary to repeat the procedure. Botox, like many other treatments, has its side effects: muscle weakness around the treated area, pain, redness, compensatory sweating and nausea.

In cases where any and all of the above have not been successful, surgery may be considered, but it carries with it some complications. The surgical procedure involves incisions made into the sides of the chest and the pathways to the sweat glands are interrupted. Due to the nature of the surgery complications such as air trapped inside the chest, nervous system damage and internal bleeding.

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