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Excessive sweating

Find out about this embarrassing, yet common, condition and what can be done to treat it.
By
WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Elena Lomas started to suffer with excessive sweating around the age of 12. It affected her school work. "Exams were difficult as my hands would be wringing wet and very distracting," she says.

"Dating was emotionally draining. I would constantly worry about physical contact. Simple actions like holding hands would be avoided. Slow dances were something I dreaded." She wore mainly black clothes to hide the sweat patches.

After 30 years of working as a stylist, constantly leaving grubby damp fingerprints on mannequins, she had a career change and started working at a primary school.

"Once again I was dealing with paperwork, this time it was not my own work I was spoiling! Children would also make comments about me having wet hands all the time. I hated having to touch them in case they said something. It didn't matter how nicely or innocently it was said, I was so ashamed."

The condition is not unusual

Elena’s story is not uncommon. Between 1% and 3% of people in the UK are believed to suffer from excessive sweating or, as it’s known in the medical world, hyperhidrosis.

"Hyperhidrosis affects sufferers in different ways, but, without exception, causes great embarrassment to all who are afflicted by it", says specialist nurse Julie Halford who runs a hyperhidrosis support group.

"Sodden hands make working with papers and metals very difficult, as well as using a keyboard. Playing musical instruments and holding a racquet can be very awkward indeed."

The British Association of Dermatologists says it can be emotionally distressing. A survey by the International Hyperhidrosis Society revealed that 90% of hyperhidrosis sufferers said they had experienced negative and cruel comments from other people because of their sweating.

Types and causes of hyperhidrosis

Primary hyperhidrosis affects the hands, feet, underarms, face and scalp. People sweat excessively from one or more of these areas.

Secondary hyperhidrosis affects the whole body. It is increased sweating that can be caused by conditions such as diabetes, thyroid problems, hormonal issues like the menopause or side effects of medication.

Scientists don’t know what causes primary hyperhydrosis. The British Association of Dermatologists says there’s a trend for it to run in families and up to a third of sufferers may have a family member with the condition.

Often though there is no obvious cause as the sweat glands in people with hyperhidrosis are normal in size, number and location.

Anxiety doesn’t cause the excessive sweating but it can make it worse. The more you worry about sweating, the sweatier you may become.

How is it treated?

Your GP will assess which type of hyperhidrosis you have.

If it’s general, he’ll try to find out the root of the problem. You may have tests for an infection or illness. When there’s an underlying cause which can be treated then often the sweating goes away as well.

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