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Hyperhidrosis: The Reason Your Palms and Pits May Be So Sweaty

We’ve all been there. You’re about to speak before your class or a group, and your hands start to sweat; your armpits begin to perspire.

While this is a normal physiological reaction to nerves, for some, everyday can feel like this.  Whether they’re in North Dakota in the middle of a snow storm or sitting in their car commuting to work, they are sweating it.

If you are suffering from excessive sweating—particularly your palms, armpits, feet, head and groin areas—you may have an uncomfortable and sometimes embarrassing condition called hyperhidrosis.

What is Hyperhidrosis?

Hyperhidrosis occurs when the nerves that stimulate your sweat glands to perspire become overactive, causing you to sweat even when your body may not need to regulate its temperature. This can have a serious impact emotionally, socially and professionally.

“Hyperhidrosis can take a social toll, making handshakes unpleasant or even holding hands with someone uncomfortable,” said Joshua Tournas, MD, a dermatologist at Banner Health Center in Sun City West, AZ. “It may also affect everyday tasks and work functions and take a toll on your skin.”

Two Causes of Hyperhidrosis

Hyperhidrosis can be broken down into two types: primary or secondary.

Primary hyperhidrosis causes excessive sweating without any apparent reason, although it can be triggered by stress. It typically starts in childhood and may be genetically related (Meaning: you may have another relative with the same problem). Typically, primary hyperhidrosis occurs during the day but not at night or while sleeping.

Secondary hyperhidrosis typically causes excessive sweating on a larger scale (all over your body) and is due to an underlying cause, such as cancer, menopause, a spinal cord injury or certain medications. Typically, secondary hyperhidrosis occurs later in adulthood.

Treatment Options for Primary Hyperhidrosis

People say, “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” but what if you can’t stop the sweating?

“Many people hide this condition instead of talking to their doctor,” Dr. Tournas said. “The truth is, you can get help for it by talking to your primary care doctor or a dermatologist who has knowledge in excessive sweating. There are many different treatment options available today.”

Here are six ways to slow down or stop the sweat.

1. Special Deodorants

“One of the first lines of defense when it comes to profuse sweating is using an antiperspirant with aluminum chloride,” Dr. Tournas said. “While typically applied to your armpits, it can also be used on your palms and feet to help control sweating.”

If over-the-counter versions aren’t cutting it, your doctor may also prescribe an antiperspirant that’s stronger, like a solution containing aluminum chloride hexahydrate. Antiperspirants have been shown to help with mild cases, but Dr. Tournas said those with more severe cases may run through this treatment quickly.

2. Topical or Oral Medications

Your doctor may also prescribe anticholinergic drugs that can be taken by mouth or rubbed into your skin to help deactivate your sweat glands. However, like most medications, they may cause side effects such as dry mouth, dizziness, blurred vision and constipation.

3. Botox

If you thought Botox was only used to combat wrinkles—think again. Botox injections are also used to block the nerves that stimulate your sweat glands. But if your squeamish about needles and have a low pain threshold (imagine a needle in your armpit or foot – ouch!), you may want to consider another option.

“Botox is an effective but expensive treatment option,” Dr. Tournas said. “That’s because you’ll need to continue treatments every three or four months to see the greatest effect. And if you stop, the sweating will return.”

4. Electrical Therapy

No, this isn’t electric shock therapy like you’ve seen in the movies. Called iontophoresis, this procedure uses low-level electrical currents and water to temporarily block your sweat glands. It works well with hands and feet, but it is hard to do for armpit sweating. Another plus is that it can be done in the comfort of your own home.

5. Microwave Treatment

Called miraDry, this safe, FDA-approved device uses electromagnetic energy to permanently destroy sweat and odor glands. It’s a non-invasive procedure that delivers heat and energy directly to the glands.

“For those it works for, it works great,” Dr. Tournas said. “Typically, it involves two treatments about three to four months apart.”

6. Surgery

If you’ve exhausted all other measures and are still suffering from excessive sweating, your doctor may suggest surgery as a last resort. You can either have the sweat glands surgically removed or have the sympathetic nerve along your spine cut, burned or clipped. While surgery is an option, Dr. Tournas said it has certainly fallen out of favor with many less invasive, but effective, methods available to patients today.

Don’t Sweat It – Get Help

Whether your sweating is localized or all over, don’t hesitate talking to your doctor. Your doctor can determine the underlying cause for the sweating and determine what line of treatment is necessary. To find a Banner Health specialist near you, visit bannerhealth.com.

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