What Is Hyperhidrosis?

Hyperhidrosis, or excessive sweating, is characterized by sweat that is produced in excess of what is necessary for thermoregulation (the ability to maintain a healthy temperature). Sweating is a perfectly natural and necessary function the body uses to cool itself down. However, if you have hyperhidrosis, you’ll start sweating even when your body isn’t overheating.[1] Sweating that has no apparent cause is known to doctors as diaphoresis.[2]

If you have hyperhidrosis, you can experience sweating on several parts of the body, including in the hands, underarms, face, scalp, and feet. Some people even experience excessive groin sweat and sweating under the breasts. The type of hyperhidrosis you have will determine whether you experience sweating all over your body or if it is just in specific areas. Some people with hyperhidrosis sweat in several different areas simultaneously, while others only experience excessive sweating at one location - it is a highly individualized condition. Hands, feet, and underarms are the parts of the body that are most likely to be affected by hyperhidrosis.[3]

People who suffer from hyperhidrosis have the same number and size of sweat glands as people who don’t have the condition. Their sweat glands are just overactive, compared to what they would normally be.[1]

What Are the Symptoms of Hyperhidrosis?

If you’re wondering how to tell whether you have hyperhidrosis , here is a checklist of symptoms for you to review.

Different dermatologists characterize hyperhidrosis in various ways. What’s important is the fact that if you are uncomfortable with the level of sweat that your body produces (wherever it’s being produced), there are solutions that are available. You have access to over-the-counter topical treatments, prescription options, and medical procedures that can help. If you are interested in medical solutions, you can book an appointment with your dermatologist and learn how to manage hyperhidrosis with a dermatologist.[3]

Now that we’ve answered the question “what is hyperhidrosis?”, It’s important to understand the different types of hyperhidrosis. The approaches used to understand and treat hyperhidrosis are very different depending on the type you have.

The Two Main Types of Hyperhidrosis

There are two main types of hyperhidrosis. There are a few other types that are much less common, but the vast majority of people will either have primary focal hyperhidrosis or secondary generalized hyperhidrosis. Let’s look at each type of hyperhidrosis and what they entail.

Primary Focal Hyperhidrosis

Primary Focal Hyperhidrosis (PFH) is by far the most common type, affecting up to 90 percent of people who have hyperhidrosis. The cause is not well understood, but it is thought to have a genetic component.[3]

People with primary focal hyperhidrosis only sweat in particular areas like the hands, feet, armpits, face, and groin. Sweat will occur on both sides of the body in the same place. For example, if someone has one sweaty hand it is likely their other hand will also be sweaty. Additionally, the sweat will usually occur in more than one area — one common problem with PFH is that the sweating occurs on hands and feet simultaneously. It can also affect other body parts individually or simultaneously, it just depends on a person’s specific situation.[3]

Symptoms usually begin in childhood or adolescence and tend to last for a person’s entire lifetime. There is evidence that primary focal hyperhidrosis is hereditary, meaning it has a genetic component and often runs in families.[3]

Secondary Generalized Hyperhidrosis

While primary focal hyperhidrosis appears to be something you’re born with,secondary generalized hyperhidrosis (SGH) is a condition that shows up during adulthood. Think of SGH as an uninvited guest who arrives on your doorstep with no warning. Unfortunately, it may be a little harder to get rid of than an uninvited guest.[3]

You might suddenly wonder why you’ve been so sweaty lately. And you’d be right to wonder, because this type of hyperhidrosis can point to an underlying problem.

When someone has secondary hyperhidrosis the biggest problem isn’t the hyperhidrosis – it’s the disease or condition that might be causing it. That’s why it’s known as secondary hyperhidrosis. The true cause may be a medical condition and the symptom of that condition is hyperhidrosis.[3]

Before you panic that you’re suffering from a mysterious disease, keep in mind the source of this type of hyperhidrosis can also be a medication. Many common medications can cause hyperhidrosis as a side effect.[3]

Unlike primary focal hyperhidrosis, the sweating from secondary hyperhidrosis tends to occur all over the body. This is a telltale sign of the condition.[3]

Unlike primary hyperhidrosis, this condition doesn’t have to be permanent. If the instigating condition is found and treated, it can fix the hyperhidrosis. It may take a little work, but you CAN kick this guest off your porch.[3]

If you are concerned that your hyperhidrosis might have an underlying cause, schedule an appointment to talk to your doctor and find out.[3]

The Impact of Hyperhidrosis

While hyperhidrosis isn’t particularly dangerous physically, it can be embarrassing for those who suffer from it. It won’t just give you clammy skin – the sweat can literally drip off. That can cause a great deal of anxiety for those who experience it.[3]

Shaking hands can become a nightmare because you may be so self-conscious about how sweaty your palms are. Your socks can become wet even if you don’t do any exercise. It can make basic human experiences extremely stressful.

Unfortunately, hyperhidrosis is more serious than just uncomfortable sweating. Up to a third of people who deal with excessive sweating from hyperhidrosis say that they are constantly bothered by their sweating. One study done in the US found that 75% of respondents reported that hyperhidrosis negatively impacted their social, emotional, and mental health.[4] That’s a lot of people who are suffering! Due to these issues, hyperhidrosis and anxiety often go hand in hand.[3] Many people find it helpful to utilize anxiety reduction methods that are known to lessen excessive sweating.

Hyperhidrosis is hard for adults to deal with, so it is especially important to find help for kids with hyperhidrosis.

Some people refer to hyperhidrosis as a silent handicap because of the impact it has upon the lives of those who live with it. It can deeply impact their confidence and hyperhidrosis can even keep people from doing the things they love most.[5]

Is Hyperhidrosis Common?

It is thought that about 3% of the US population struggles with hyperhidrosis. In other countries the percentage of the population that has it is even higher.[3] Other sources have stated that up to 5% of the population might even have it![6] This means that hyperhidrosis is a very common issue.

While most doctor’s offices are familiar with managing hyperhidrosis, they generally don’t see a lot of patients who suffer from it. However, because hyperhidrosis is such an embarrassing and overlooked condition, many individuals avoid reporting the issue to their doctor. This means that the number of people who have hyperhidrosis might even be higher than we currently think.[3]

Those with family members who have this ailment are more likely to get it – making it an inherited condition. If you have a family member teased for their sweaty hands constantly, there could be a chance they have hyperhidrosis. [3]

What Causes Hyperhidrosis?

Doctors don’t truly understand what causes primary focal hyperhidrosis yet. One theory is that particular nerves that control the amount of sweat overreact or malfunction. That malfunction can cause the excessive sweating that can be life-changing for those who suffer from it.[7]

Since hyperhidrosis affects so many people, researchers are now shifting into full gear to discover the causes of excessive sweating so they can develop better treatments. Future treatments and research for hyperhidrosis are being developed more rapidly than ever before.[3]

What Conditions Can Cause Secondary Generalized Hyperhidrosis?

Many diseases and medical conditions can cause hyperhidrosis. However, just because you have one of the conditions listed below this paragraph doesn’t mean you’ll develop hyperhidrosis.

Here are some of the more common conditions that may be causing the hyperhidrosis you have developed as an adult.

There are also several types of common medications that cause hyperhidrosis as a side effect. So, if you are on medication and you begin experiencing new or increased amounts of sweating mention it to your doctor. Some of these medications include antidepressants, painkillers, blood pressure medications and many others.a [3]

If you think you might have secondary generalized hyperhidrosis it is very important that you speak to a doctor. Many of the things that cause it can be resolved, and it could be a sign of a more serious problem. Don’t panic, but it is wise to look into the reason you are sweating more.

What Are the Treatments for Primary Focal Hyperhidrosis?

If you are diagnosed with primary focal hyperhidrosis, there are many things you can do.These are the existing treatments for hyperhidrosis, but new treatments are currently being explored by scientists:

Defeating Hyperhidrosis

Undoubtedly, hyperhidrosis can be a hard condition to cope with. Until recently, the lack of research into hyperhidrosis had made hyperhidrosis difficult to manage. Thankfully, however, new treatments and awareness has made hyperhidrosis much easier to handle. Keep trying treatments until you find what works for you and remember that you are not alone in suffering with this condition. It’s just a matter of figuring out what you can do to control your sweat instead of your sweat controlling you!

Sources
  1. MedicineNet Medical Journal. (2016, May 13). Definition of Hyperhidrosis. Retrieved May 14, 2018, from https://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=16272
  2. Diaphoresis: What causes excessive sweating? (n.d.). Retrieved May 20, 2020, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321663#overview
  3. Pariser, D. M. (2014). Hyperhidrosis (4th ed., Vol. 32). Amsterdam: Elsevier Pub. Co., 2014. Retrieved from https://www.elsevier.com/books/hyperhidrosis-an-issue-of-dermatologic-clinics/pariser/978-0-323-32607-0
  4. Lenefsky, M., & Rice, Z. P. (2018). Hyperhidrosis and Its Impact on Those Living With It. AJMC. Retrieved from https://www.ajmc.com/journals/supplement/2018/hyperhidrosis-managed-markets-update-treatments/hyperhidrosis-and-its-impact--on-those-living-with-it
  5. Nordqvist, C. (2017, December 21). Hyperhidrosis: Symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment. Retrieved May 14, 2018, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/182130.php

    Doolittle, James, et al. “Hyperhidrosis: an Update on Prevalence and Severity in the United States.” Archives of Dermatological Research, vol. 308, no. 10, 2016, pp. 743–749., doi:10.1007/s00403-016-1697-9. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27744497/

    Huddle, J. R. (2014). Hyperhidrosis: Causes, Treatment Options and Outcomes. New York, NY: Nova Science. Retrieved from https://www.bookdepository.com/Hyperhidrosis-Janine-R-Huddle/9781633215160