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Everybody sweats. It’s an entirely normal human function that helps us to regulate our temperature after physical exertion or during hot weather. However, you may find that you sweat a lot even when you’re not feeling warm – this is a treatable condition called hyperhidrosis.
What qualifies as ‘normal’ sweating is subjective, but you may want to seek help if you feel self-conscious and socially withdrawn because of your sweating, find it interferes with your ability to drive or do your job, or you’re spending a significant amount of time managing the problem.
Hyperhidrosis is often a long-term condition, but is very common. It is thought to affect up to 3% of people in the UK. There are two types of hyperhidrosis: primary and secondary.
Primary hyperhidrosis has no obvious cause and is thought to involve the part of the nervous system that controls your body’s thermostat. It often starts in childhood or during puberty, and researchers think it may be something to do with your genes. It may affect just a single part of your body – typically the palms of your hands, your armpits or your face.
Secondary hyperhidrosis is something caused by another medical condition, like an infection, low blood sugar or an overactive thyroid gland. It typically comes on suddenly and affects your whole body.
There’s no reason to be embarrassed about seeking treatment for excessive sweating. If you’ve started sweating excessively suddenly, or have started having night sweats, it’s important to seek a diagnosis straight away; it may be a sign of something serious.
Diagnosis can usually be made by way of a physical examination and a few questions. You may also have to undergo blood and/or urine tests if it’s suspected that something else is causing your sweating.
Treating hyperhidrosis is possible and often simple and painless. Dealing with the cause of secondary hyperhidrosis, by (for instance) prescribing antibiotics that resolve an infection, can solve the problem relatively quickly.
Excessive sweating is usually managed with lifestyle changes, and often involves prevention rather than cure. Wearing loose and lightweight clothing, made of natural fibres, will help reduce sweating, as man-made fabrics like polyester and nylon are less ‘breathable’.
You should also avoid triggers like spicy foods that raise your body temperature. You may also want to switch to antiperspirants rather than deodorants, as they act to prevent sweat.
If shop-bought antiperspirants aren’t working, stronger, topical treatments can be prescribed. These are very powerful so be sure to use exactly as prescribed.
Other more long-lasting hyperhidrosis treatments are available. For example, you can opt for injections that block the chemical process that causes sweating. The effects of these injections can last several months before they need to be repeated and have a high success rate.
Excessive sweating can be very stressful, so it’s worthwhile considering how you deal with any anxiety. Anxiety medications can actually make your sweating worse so other kinds of therapy such as cognitive behavioural therapy may be preferable.
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