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Stink, Stank, Stunk – When Excessive Sweating is a Problem

Sweating is a natural function of the body to cool it down during physical exertion or from a warm environment or to even help cope with emotional situations.

But some people have overactive glands and produce sweat excessively without these normal stimuli. It’s a medical condition called hyperhidrosis that affects 2 to 3 percent of the population.

“For the majority of individuals with hyperhidrosis, this excessive sweating affects their hands, feet and underarms,” said William W. Huang, M.D., M.P.H., an assistant professor of dermatology at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. “Commonly, there is no particular cause found, and this is called primary hyperhidrosis. There is a subset of individuals with hyperhidrosis that is caused by other conditions such as medications, cancers, metabolic and hormonal imbalances, infections and nerve injury. These individuals have secondary hyperhidrosis.”`

Huang said that the uncontrollable sweating of hyperhidrosis can have a serious impact on a person, both physically and emotionally. “Sweating through a shirt or always having wet hands can lead to embarrassment and discomfort.”

Huang provides some helpful tips to deal with the condition:

  • Hyperhidrosis can be a problem through every season. Sufferers should opt for breathable, natural fiber clothing and should wash clothes after a single use.
  • Sweat is essentially odorless, but body odor becomes a problem due to bacteria on the skin’s surface. Using an antibacterial soap is helpful and showers over baths are better for removing sweat and bacteria.
  • Avoiding certain foods such as fatty foods, oils, and strong smelling foods like garlic, onions, and curry that can seep through pores can help with body odor.
  • Reduce caffeine intake from coffee, teas and soft drinks because they can stimulate the sweat glands.
  • Stay hydrated, especially in the summer, because excessive sweating causes loss of water and electrolytes.
  • Seek medical attention. There are many medical treatments available that can often be life changing.

Huang said a first step is to use an over the counter or prescription strength antiperspirant that contains aluminum chloride compounds that help close off the sweat glands. Oral medications such as anticholinergics block the primary signal (acetylcholine) that stimulates the sweat glands to make sweat. 

In addition, he said, there are in-office procedures that can treat hyperhidrosis such as iontophoresis – a technique that uses water to conduct a mild electrical current through the skin's surface – and injections of botulinum toxin type A. Lastly, there are surgeries that can be performed called sympathectomies which are reserved for the most severe and treatment-resistant cases. More recently a non-invasive procedure has been developed that uses microwave-based energy to destroy sweat glands. 

“Any treatment or procedure has its own potential risks and benefits and should be discussed thoroughly with a qualified heath care provider,” Huang said. “My recommendation for patients with this condition and other conditions that can cause embarrassment is to realize you are not alone in dealing with this and should seek help from their doctor.”

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Department of Dermatology

The Department of Dermatology at Wake Forest School of Medicine is a young and rapidly growing department providing the highest caliber clinical care for patients, top-notch training for future practitioners of dermatology, and a productive setting for basic and applied research on diseases of the skin.

Last Updated: 11-07-2016
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