Living with excessive sweating

Excessive sweating can make people's lives a misery, but there are self-help techniques and effective treatments.

Women glow, men perspire and pigs sweat, goes the saying. But some people really do sweat a lot, and it can make their lives a misery.

On internet forums devoted to excessive sweating (hyperhidrosis), anonymous posts talk about "distress", "embarrassment", "stigma", "hopelessness" and "isolation".

While excessive sweating isn’t medically dangerous, it can cause significant emotional and psychological distress, which can affect personal and professional relationships.

"It can be very embarrassing, to the point where many sufferers are reluctant to speak to their doctor," says Julie Halford, founder of the Hyperhidrosis UK support group.

“It affects people in everything they do. If you work with paper and have hyperhidrosis of your hands, it's a big problem. People who have hyperhidrosis of the feet can rot their shoes within a few weeks.

“A lot of people associate excessive sweating with body odour. Hyperhidrosis doesn't [cause] body odour. Often people just sweat excessively but there is no smell with it.”

Bad body odour is caused when bacteria living on the skin break down protein and fatty substances secreted by sweat glands in the armpits (underarms) and groin.

Who's affected?

Most people produce about a litre of sweat each day, but people with hyperhidrosis (about 2-3% of the population), can produce up to 10 times as much.

Excessive sweating can be caused by illnesses, such as obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure. It normally stops once the underlying condition is treated.

But it’s also a condition in its own right. When the nerves that control sweating don’t function normally, they cause constant sweating in one or more areas of the body.

“The hands, the feet and the armpits (underarm) are the most common places,” says Halford. “The face, the head, the groin, the back and the chest also sweat, but not as commonly.”

People with excessive sweating wish they could just turn the tap off. It might not be as easy as that, but there are effective treatments available.

What help is available?

Changing your lifestyle and daily activities can improve symptoms and make you feel more self-confident.

Self-help tips:

  • Avoid known triggers that make your sweating worse, such as spicy foods or alcohol.
  • Frequently use antiperspirant spray (rather than deodorants).
  • Avoid tight, restrictive clothing and man-made fibres, such as nylon.
  • Wearing white or black clothing can minimise the signs of sweating.
  • Armpit shields can absorb excessive sweat and protect your clothes.
  • Wear socks that absorb moisture, for example thick, soft socks made of natural fibres or sports socks designed to absorb moisture. Avoid synthetics, and change your socks at least twice a day.
  • Buy shoes that are made of leather, canvas or mesh rather than synthetic material.

If you're troubled by excessive sweating, see your GP. They can suggest the right medication. In some cases you may need to be referred to a skin specialist (a dermatologist) for additional treatment.

For more information on treatments, go to Health A-Z: hyperhidrosis.

Sweating

Hyperhidrosis is excessive sweating. In this video, find out what causes it and the treatments available. Part of a series on embarrassing conditions.

Media last reviewed: 30/04/2013

Next review due: 30/04/2015

Page last reviewed: 19/01/2014

Next review due: 19/01/2016

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The 4 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Kyminihorse said on 17 June 2014

I disagree that this condition is non life threatening. I can dehydrate so severly within a few short minutes that my bloodpressure bottoms out, electrolytes are depleted, body temp rises and I pass out. Many many times in the ambulance they stick the electrodes on my chest and have paddles in hand ready to shock me incase my heart stops. I am assuming that means I am in a life threatening state, although since I am not a medical professional I could be wrong............
I have an extremely severe form, simply sitting outside and visiting in 70° weather for 30 minutes or walking 100 yards means an emergency situation for me. No medications etc have helped yet. And my trouble area is my head, the sweat will actually run a solid stream!

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cupcake123 said on 15 June 2014

I'm only 13 but i suffer with stress and anxiety loads. I find it really hard on a day to day basis because of my excessive sweating. Sometimes i have to change my top up to 5 times a day just to give my self some self confidence. I sweat mostly under my arms, hands and feet. when i am at school i sweat the most because I'm always under pressure. I would really appreciate if someone could give me some advice on how to sweat less because i find i have tried all deodorants/ anti-antiperspirants but none give a positive result. I also have a huge phobia about needles so i am refusing to go to the doctors for help. Please help...

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User808653 said on 03 October 2013

I have excessive sweating to the point I cant even walk over the road without my face neck armpits everywhere dripping. Its getting me down and not even wanting to leave the house. I have to sometimes change my top 3 times a day it is that bad. I have tried and tried with the doctors and am getting nowhere. I hate feeling like this and would do anything not to be so sweaty and enjoy life because now I feel I cant do anything without sweating so much.

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User587263 said on 27 August 2011

Doctors don't like to refer you to dermatologists. They will prescribe one brand of antiperspirant (that burns your skin) and maybe give you one type of medication (which has intolerable side effects).

Once you have a diagnosis (excessive sweating can be a symptom of something serious going on), you're better off researching it and treating it yourself. There are some very good hyperhidrosis forums online so try them for help.

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Media last reviewed: 27/12/2012

Next review due: 27/12/2014

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