What causes excessive sweating and how can you treat it?

Most of us sweat while we exercise, when it’s too hot, or if we’re on the London Underground (particularly the Central line).

Perspiring is important because of how the body regulates temperature – sweat keeps us cool and comfortable and prevents the body from overheating.

But you shouldn’t be sweating if your body doesn’t need to cool down.

Excessive sweating, or hyperhidrosis, can happen for no reason and sometimes gets better with age.

In some cases (secondary hyperhidrosis), it can be due to side effects of medication or an underlying condition.

If you do think you’re sweating to excess, don’t worry too much as there are ways to deal with it and treatments available.

In most cases, excessive sweating isn’t a direct threat to your health.

Conditions that can cause hyperhidrosis include Diabetic hypoglycemia, Endocarditis (an infection of the inner lining of the heart), fever, generalised anxiety disorder, hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), menopause, stress, and obesity.

Excess sweating could be a medicinal side effect, sometimes experienced when taking some beta-blockers or antidepressants.

The NHS recommends that you wear loose-fitting clothes to minimise signs of sweating. This is handy, as the threat of sweat patches might make you feel uncomfortable and make you sweat more out of anxiety.

Wear socks that absorb moisture and change your socks at least twice a day if possible to minimise smells.

You can also wear leather shoes and try to wear different shoes every day.

There are some behaviours you can avoid to stop the problem exacerbating such as avoiding nylon or man-made fabrics.

Try to avoid boots or sports shoes that may cause your feet to sweat more.

Don’t do things that might make your sweating worse – for example, drinking alcohol or eating spicy food.

If you experience hyperhidrosis, there are over the counter solutions you can get from a pharmacist.

These include stronger antiperspirants instead of deodorant, armpit or sweat shields to protect your clothing, foot powders for sweaty feet and soap substitutes that are more gentle on your skin.

If your sweating starts interfering with your daily activities, or you suddenly start sweating excessively or at night then you should visit a GP.

Treating severe excessive sweating

If there’s no obvious cause for your sweating, and nothing seems to be helping, then you may be referred to a specialist (dermatologist).

They may recommend other treatments that you can try, such as:

  • taking tablets that reduce sweating
  • treating the areas with a weak electric current passed through water or on a wet pad (iontophoresis)
  • having botox injections for sweating under the armpits (this may not be available on the NHS)
  • surgery – for example, removal of the sweat glands

Visit Hyperhidrosis UK for more information on available treatments.

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