What is hyperhidrosis?

Hyperhidrosis is a condition which causes the body to sweat more than usual. The body sweats to reduce body temperature and most people sweat when they are hot or they have been exercising. However, people with hyperhidrosis sweat a lot more than normal and it can have serious implications for their personal and professional lives.

Why do we sweat?

Sweating is a natural human process, which occurs when the body is too hot. The nervous system sends signals to the sweat glands telling them to secrete sweat when it senses that the body is too hot. Sweat is secreted and when it cools on the skin, body temperature is decreased.

People who have hyperhidrosis sweat more than normal, even when the body is not too hot.

Types of hyperhidrosis

There are three different types of hyperhidrosis. These are: primary focal hyperhidrosis, secondary focal hyperhidrosis and generalised hyperhidrosis.

  • Primary focal hyperhidrosis affects the focal areas of the body where there is greater concentration of sweat glands; these areas include the hands, feet, face and armpits. Primary focal hyperhidrosis has no underlying cause.
  • Secondary focal hyperhidrosis affects the focal areas but it is caused by an underlying health condition; possible causes include infections, certain forms of cancer and diabetes.
  • Generalised hyperhidrosis affects the whole body and it is usually linked to underlying health conditions.

What causes hyperhidrosis?

There is no known cause of primary focal hyperhidrosis but there is evidence to suggest that it runs in families. Secondary and generalised hyperhidrosis are usually linked to underlying health conditions, including:

  • Cancer
  • Overactive thyroid gland
  • Hormonal imbalance
  • Infections
  • Taking certain types of medication (including anti-depressants)

When should I see a doctor?

You should see a doctor if you are worried about the amount you sweat, you feel that you sweat more than normal and sweating is affecting the way you live your life. Your GP will chat to you about your symptoms and they may offer advice to help reduce sweating. If more intensive treatment is required, they may refer you to a specialist dermatologist.

What can I do to reduce sweating?

There are many self-help techniques that can be used to try and reduce sweating. These include:

  • Wearing loose clothing made of natural, light materials including cotton and linen.
  • Avoid tight-fitting clothing made of man-made materials, such as nylon.
  • Avoid triggers, such as spicy food and alcohol.
  • Washing frequently.
  • Use antiperspirant on a regular basis; if your regular deodorant does not work try a stronger antiperspirant.

Which treatments are available?

If the changes listed above do not work, there are other treatments available. These include:

  • Botox: Botox can be injected into problem areas using very fine needles. Botox has been proven to be very effective but it is only a short-term treatment and repeat treatments are required every 4-8 months. Botox is not widely available on the NHS and most people have to pay for private treatment. Botox is most effective for sweating in the armpits, but it can also be used in other areas of the body.
  • Surgery: surgery can be used to modify the sympathetic nervous system. The ETS procedure is carried out via key-hole surgery and some nerve tissue is removed to reduce sweating by limiting the transmission of signals from the nervous system to the sweat glands. Surgery is only used if other treatments have failed, as the procedure is invasive and it does carry risks and side effects
  • Laser Sweat Ablation: this technique uses laser technology to destroy the sweat glands. It is a relatively new treatment, which is becoming increasingly popular. Laser Sweat Ablation is a long-term cure for excessive sweating and the risks are lower than other surgical procedures.