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Types & Causes Of Excessive Sweating

By Dr. Nikita Toshi +2 more


All of us sweat to some degree. There are natural differences in the amount of sweating due to genetic expression in each. When we work out or are in a hot environment, sweating is our body’s mechanism to cool itself down. As the body’s temperature rises, sweat glands produce fluid which is carried to the skin surface to cool it down. However, some people sweat much more than others. This excessive sweating is known as Hyperhidrosis, Seborrhea or Polyhidrosis.

Those who have hyperhidrosis may sweat even without any reason. They may suffer from excessive sweating in the entire body or just a few areas. The condition doesn’t threaten life but can have a severe psychological and emotional impact.

Understanding excessive sweating

Types of Excessive Sweating  

There are two kinds of excessive sweating based on medical reasons.

  1. Primary hyperhidrosis: When sweating is without any medical problem, it is known as Primary Hyperhidrosis. This happens because the nerves which are connected to the sweat glands become overactive leading to more sweat production than required. It is usually hereditary.
  2. Secondary Hyperhidrosis: When excessive perspiration is due to an underlying medical issue, it is known as Secondary Hyperhidrosis.

There are two kinds of excessive sweating based on the location of sweating.

  1. Focal Hyperhidrosis: When it is only certain areas that have uncontrolled perspiration, it is known as Focal Hyperhidrosis. Hands, arms, face, feet and groin are the usual areas of excessive sweating.
  2. Generalized Hyperhidrosis: When the entire body suffers sweats excessively, it is known as Generalized Hyperhidrosis.

Most cases of hyperhidrosis begin in adolescence, but they can develop earlier or later in life.

Hyperhidrosis is a common complaint in clinical practice, and while there are many treatments available, many are unsatisfactory. The goal is to reduce sweating with minimal complications keeping oneself hydrated.

Dr. M.G. Kartheeka, MBBS, MD

Causes of Excessive Sweating

Causes of Primary Hyperhidrosis

We all have an ‘on-off’ mechanism when it comes to sweating. The sweat glands of those with primary hyperhidrosis do not have an ‘off’ mechanism to shut down the excessive sweating when it is not required.

It is the eccrine sweat glands that are the majority of sweat glands. These glands supply the face, palms, feet and armpits. Those who have primary Hyperhidrosis will break into a sweat without any reason or just by thinking of an uncomfortable situation.

Causes of Secondary Hyperhidrosis

In this condition, excessive sweating affects a general area or all over the body. It is due to some medical problem and may even result in sweating while sleeping. Many medical conditions can cause excessive sweating. Let us take a look at some of them.

1. Hyperthyroidism

When there is a more than normal quantity of thyroid hormones circulating in the system, the condition is known as hyperthyroidism. It raises the metabolic activities in the body leading to the speeding up of chemical processes. This may result in excessive sweating.

2. Pregnancy

Many women experience a severe bout of hyperhidrosis in their pregnancy. The cause of excessive sweating in pregnancy may be hormonal imbalance.

3. Cancer

Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, leukaemia, bone and liver cancer, carcinoid tumours and mesothelioma are known to cause excessive sweating. It may be because of the body heat generated with the body trying to fight cancer.

4. Medications

Psychiatric medicines, high blood pressure drugs, medicines for a dry mouth, nutritional supplements and some antibiotics also cause excessive sweating.

5. Diabetes

Those who have Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes or even gestational diabetes can have hyperhidrosis. Low glucose levels cause excessive sweating.

6. Menopause

Women who are undergoing menopause report feeling hot flushes and excessive sweating. The decreasing estrogen levels and fluctuation of other hormones in the body can cause excessive sweating.

7. Psychiatric Issues

When one is feeling stressed or anxious, the body temperature is increased. Even some psychiatric medications lead to increased activity in the sweat glands. Both of these reasons can cause excessive sweating. Other causes include

  • Injury to the spine
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Gout
  • Heart problems
  • Obesity
  • Respiratory Distress
  • Malaria and TB
  • Substance Abuse

Diagnosis of Excessive Sweating

It may seem embarrassing but talk to your doctor about your issue. He may ask you about your patterns of sweating. He will also ask which body parts are most affected, about the frequency of the excessive sweating episodes and more. He may expose you to specific tests like thermoregulatory tests to figure out more about your condition.

Dealing with Excessive Sweating

Here are some natural ways to deal with excessive sweating.

  1. Armpit Shields: these are pads worn in the armpit to avoid staining of clothes by sweat.
  2. Antiperspirants: these are sprays that plug the sweat glands and thus reduce perspiration.
  3. Natural Fibres: wearing natural fibres like cotton and linen helps to control excessive sweating. Wearing synthetic fibres like nylon increase perspiration as the skin can’t breathe.
  4. Footwear: Wear shoes and socks made of natural materials. For shoes, leather is good while there are many kinds of sweat-absorbing socks that come in different colours.
  5. Take Regular Baths: Bathing daily and targeting areas like underarms and feet thoroughly help in keeping the bacteria on your skin under control.  
  6. Feet Powders: There are several powders available in the market that act as sweat absorbents and keep the sweat your feet produce in check.  Get Enough Air: Slip your feet out of those suffocating shoes once in a while and let the air dry out your feet.  
  7. Relaxation Techniques – Meditation and yoga help relieve the stress that triggers your excessive sweating.

Also Read: Does Sweating Burn Calories? A Deep Dive into the Facts

Treatment for Excessive Sweating

1. Iontophoresis

In this, the hands and feet of the person are dipped in water and an electric current is passed. This is harmless and it disables the sweat glands from being active temporarily.

2. Botox

Botulinum toxin injections block the sweat glands by disabling the nerves that trigger the sweat release. Several sittings may be needed for the treatment to be effective.

3. Medications

These medications inhibit the nerves from transmitting impulses to cause sweating. About two weeks are needed to notice any improvement.

4. Surgery

This is recommended only as the last resort when all other methods of treatment fail. The nerves supplying a connection to the sweat glands are severed off.

Also Read: How to Cure Sweaty Hands Permanently: Your Comprehensive Guide to Lasting Solutions

Non-treatment of excessive sweating can lead to some complications:

  1. Heat Rash: When the sweat glands become blocked, the perspiration gets trapped inside. A red, itchy rash may develop.
  2. Infections: Bacterial infections in toes and hair follicles are common.
  3. Psychological Impact: Self- confidence, personal interactions and job relations- all suffer because of this.

Disclaimer: The information provided here is for educational/awareness purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for medical treatment by a healthcare professional and should not be relied upon to diagnose or treat any medical condition. The reader should consult a registered medical practitioner to determine the appropriateness of the information and before consuming any medication. PharmEasy does not provide any guarantee or warranty (express or implied) regarding the accuracy, adequacy, completeness, legality, reliability or usefulness of the information; and disclaims any liability arising thereof.

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