What is hyperhidrosis?
Excessive sweating, also called hyperhidrosis, can affect the entire body, but usually occurs in the palms, soles, armpits, and/or groin area. Excessive sweating is normal when a person is anxious or has a fever, which is at intermittent periods, however it can become an issue for those who suffer from chronic excessive sweating.
Areas that create instances of excessive sweating usually appear pink or white, but, in severe cases, may appear cracked, scaly and soft (especially on the feet). Other symptoms may include a bad odor caused by bacteria and yeast in the area of sweating. Excessive sweating symptoms may resemble other medical conditions so it's important to consult your physician for a diagnosis, especially when recurring changes occur.
If you are sweating because you're hot, because you are overweight or because you're exerting yourself, it is not necessarily a sign of trouble (though obesity can lead to other issues). Sweating is a normal reaction to activity, where the body thinks it needs to cool itself down. If chronic excessive sweating happens regularly however, even when there is little to no activity, there may be a problem.
Generalized excessive sweating is often triggered by a variety of medical conditions and diseases that can include:
- Thyroid problems
- Infectious diseases
- Parkinson's disease
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Heart failure
- Cancers (leukemia and lymphoma, for example)
Other disorders can cause excessive sweating as well such as chronic anxiety, nervous system disorders and medications that alter normal body functions as a primary or secondary affect (psychiatric meds, blood pressure meds, herbal and dietary supplements, etc.).
When to see a doctor
To determine the exact cause and the best treatment for excessive sweating, it’s best to see a doctor experienced with this condition.
There are two basic kinds of hyperhidrosis: localized and generalized.
- Primary focal hyperhidrosis (localized sweating)
Primary focal hyperhidrosis is the most common cause of excessive sweating. It affects as much as 3% of the population of the United States, starting in late childhood or early adolescence.
Common types include:
- Palmer hyperhidrosis - “Sweaty palms” is often a result of a stressful situation. However, excessive hand sweating, called palmer hyperhidrosis, occurs even without stress. If you have this condition, your hands may always feel cold and clammy. You may also have excessive sweating in your feet, face and/or armpits.
The symptoms of Palmer Hyperhidrosis can start when you’re in your early teens and continue throughout your life. When it interferes with your social or work relationships, it’s best to consult your doctor. There are medicines and medical procedures that can help.
- Facial hyperhidrosis - Facial hyperhidrosis is excessive sweating that occurs on the face, scalp and neck. It can cause your hair to have an oily appearance and cause makeup to run.
Blow-drying wet hair can trigger excessive facial sweating, but it can also occur spontaneously when eating, speaking or being a crowd of people. This can complicate relationships and cause severe embarrassment.
Primary focal hyperhidrosis does not cause illness, it's merely excessive sweating. While it is a medical condition that can be treated it is not typically a sign of a disease and those who experience are typically healthy.
Research has shown no consistent cause though there is belief that it may stem from minor malfunctions in the nervous system, with some indication of hereditary abnormality.
- Secondary general hyperhidrosis (generalized sweating)
This is the less common form of hyperhidrosis which causes sweating all over. From a medical standpoint this is a more serious condition and is often caused by an underlying medical or health condition. There are a number of triggers that can cause generalized excessive sweating.