Sweating / Hyperhidrosis
EDP column by Dr Ketan Dhatariya

“I am troubled greatly by sweating and I have to change my clothes up to three times a day. It is getting to be socially very embarrassing. What can I do?”

Even though you may not realise it, but this is a very common problem. About 2.8% - or almost 1 in 30 of the population have sweating for which a cause cannot be found The technical name for this condition is “hyperhidrosis”. Even Hippocrates was aware of this condition and remained perplexed by it. Sweating occurs as a result of several different things, not just being warm or humid or being stressed. There are two main groups of sweating – those for which a cause can be found, and those for which a cause cannot be found.

In those in which a cause cannot be found, the sweating can be either focal – that is limited to one part of the body, such as the face and armpits. In half of all the people who have focal sweating, the only areas to be affected are the armpits. A further quarter of people have sweaty palms. The condition usually runs in families.

Examples of causes that are known to cause sweating, include infections, hormonal problems, low blood glucose levels, and some rare neurological problems. Very rarely, sweating can be associated with cancer. To try and find out what is causing the problem, you will need to go to your doctor where they will ask you a few questions about the nature of the problem. It is very likely they will do some blood tests and maybe some X-Rays as well. Because most cases of sweating fall into the ‘no cause found’ group, very often, these tests come back as normal. However, it goes without saying that your doctor makes sure that all of the known causes are excluded. If a cause is found, then you

Often the sweating is associated with a certain food, or activity, in which case it may be better to avoid them. Overall, however, treatment for sweating where no cause is found is very difficult indeed. Over-the-counter antiperspirants can help. They contain an aluminium salt that blocks the sweat pores, but in severe cases this can cause a chemical reaction resulting in more irritation. In more severe cases, your doctor may want to try you with a variety of drugs that block the nerve signals that stimulate the sweat glands. But each of these has side effects, and may not work. Very occasionally you may need to see a dermatologist for help. For extreme cases, a small operation may be necessary to cut the nerves that supply the sweat glands.

As always, a trip to the pharmacy would be the first step, and if that doesn’t help, a visit to your GP.

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