Wellness

Why Am I So Sweaty?

Experts explain why you might perspire more than usual — and what to do about it.
10/18/2018 11:37am ET
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It’s normal to sweat when you hit the gym for a hard session, walk down the street on a hot summer day or are relaxing in a hot bath. But have you found yourself sweating in everyday situations? Are you soaking through shirts in not-so-humid conditions? Constantly walking around with sweaty palms? And caking on the deodorant throughout the day?

Sweating has many benefits. It is the body’s way of cooling itself off, it may be instrumental in healing wounds, and it has even been shown to contain an antimicrobial protein, which can help ward off bacteria while working out at the gym. (One study found that free weights can carry 362 times as many germs as a toilet seat.)

Experts note, however, that it is possible to overdo it in the sweating department. Here’s why you could be so sweaty:

What’s Considered Normal And What’s Cause For Concern

According to Lindsey Bordone, a dermatologist at Columbia Doctors and an assistant professor of dermatology at Columbia University Medical Center, the amount of sweat a person produces is unique to that individual and can vary from day to day.

“Most people sweat appropriately when their body temperature begins to rise over 98.8 degrees,” she said, noting that in a normal office setting, the majority of people do not sweat excessively.

Bordone said that you should be concerned if “you notice that you sweat far more than other people in your surroundings or if there is a significant and persistent increase in your sweat production from a prior baseline amount of sweating.”

“When excessive sweating is becoming inhibitory to work, social activities or causing symptoms such as rashes, dry skin or infections, then it’s time to be concerned,” said Michelle Dawson, a board-certified medical and cosmetic dermatologist at Clarkston Dermatology in Michigan.

The Reasons Behind Excessive Sweat

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There are usually multiple causes of extra sweat. The most common ones include:

A health condition: Oversweating can be its own health condition, which is known as hyperhidrosis. The condition is said to affect 3 percent of the population and is often hereditary. According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, people with hyperhidrosis tend to sweat from one or two areas of the body, “most often from their palms, feet, underarms or head.” These areas may drip with sweat, while the other areas of the body remain dry.

According to Erum Ilyas, a dermatologist with Montgomery Dermatology in Pennsylvania, hyperhidrosis can be primary or secondary.

“Primary hyperhidrosis is from our sympathetic nervous system ― the part of our nervous system activated by the fight-or-flight response ― being overactive. Secondary hyperhidrosis is when the sweating is from another cause like a medication, hormonal changes, heart problems, cancer, infections or neurological problems,” she said.

Your weight: “The most frequent cause is obesity, because it takes extra work and effort to move when severely overweight,” Bordone said.

Your age: She said that sweat production changes somewhat in puberty. “Often teenagers will find that they sweat more and that their sweat can produce a more foul odor,” she said.

Pregnancy: “Pregnancy is also taxing, given all the extra weight being carried around and hormone shifts, so pregnant women often overheat easily and find that they sweat significantly more,” Bordone said.

Stress or anxiety: Another known cause of sweating is being in a stressful situation or battling a bout of anxiety.

“Some people sweat when they are nervous. It is a sympathetic nervous system reaction, and it has nothing to do with being overheated,” said Tsippora Shainhouse, a board-certified dermatologist in Los Angeles at the Dermatology Institute and Skin Care Center.

A thyroid issue: Hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid producing excess amounts of a hormone called thyroxine) can cause you to experience excessive sweating. If you suspect this is the case, have your doctor run a thyroid panel. This condition can often be controlled with a prescribed medication, radioactive iodine or surgery.

Another underlying medical condition: Certain diseases and ailments such as diabetes, polycystic ovary syndrome in women and endocrine disturbances can also cause you to overly sweat.

How To Get Your Sweating Under Control

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First, if you are concerned that you have been sweating more than normal lately, make an appointment with your doctor. Dermatologists are a good go-to, as they tend to treat the condition a lot.

“‘Why am I sweating so much?’ is one of the most common concerns we get from patients,” Ilyas said.

She added that she diagnoses the condition by discussing how much of a toll excessive sweating is having on a person’s lifestyle.

“The real questions I ask my patients are, ‘How much is this affecting you? Does sweating interfere with your daily activities? Do you find your sweating embarrassing? Do you find yourself choosing clothing based on your concern about how much the sweat will be noticeable? Do you avoid certain activities because you are concerned about sweating?’ If the answer to any of these is yes, then we need to come up with a game plan to address it,” she said.

Your dermatologist can offer a variety of in-office procedures that can help tackle the problem. For example, Botox can be injected in the palms, soles of the feet or armpits as a means of calming down sweat glands.

“It can take up to two weeks for noticeable results, and the effect can last from two to six months,” Shainhouse said. She added, however, that some people have noticed that they have compensatory sweating on other parts of the body.

Oral prescription pills called anticholinergics can also help reduce the amount of sweat that your body produces.

“These medications block the chemical messenger acetylcholine from reaching the peripheral receptors on the sweat glands, thus preventing the cue to start sweating,” Shainhouse said.

There are also sweat-fighting procedures. These include miraDry (which uses noninvasive microwave technology to permanently shrink and destroy the sweat glands in the armpits) and iontophoresis (in which a medical device passes mild electrical current through water — via pans for hands and feet and pads for other body areas through the skin’s surface), according to Shainhouse. It’s not entirely clear how iontophoresis works; according to one theory, it blocks nerve impulses that trigger the sweat response.

“Each treatment takes 15 to 40 minutes, and they are done at home three times a week until you have obtained the desired level of dryness, at which time you can reduce to a once-weekly maintenance treatment,” she said.

As for other options, lifestyle changes can also be beneficial to control your sweating.

“Drinking water is important, especially if you plan to exercise, as you will lose fluid through sweating and will need to replace it through drinking water,” Ilyas said.

She explained that if your body is well hydrated, it may not have to work as hard to regulate your body temperature, which may reduce some of the excess sweat. For those who sweat excessively, Ilyas also advised against spicy foods, which may cause you to sweat more.

To troubleshoot sweaty feet and ward off associated fungal infections, Shainhouse recommended changing socks and shoes frequently. You may also want to give your antiperspirants a boost.

“You can try clinical-strength over-the-counter versions, or your dermatologist will recommend or prescribe stronger ones that should be applied to hands, feet or armpits at bedtime,” Shainhouse said.

She noted that the key is to apply them to dry skin so that they can form a salt crystal in the sweat duct. “It is too late once you are sweating. They can sting and irritate the skin, especially if the skin is wet,” she added.

Bottom Line: It’s Not Dangerous, But It Can Be Frustrating

Hyperhidrosis is not deemed medically dangerous but can be a major source of embarrassment for a person battling it. Moisture and warmth encourage bacterial growth, which can lead to unpleasant odor. Excessive sweating can also get in the way of everyday activities.

“If people have supersweaty hands, not only is it embarrassing to shake someone’s hand, but they often have trouble firmly holding a pen, and their homework sheets get wet and wrinkled as they touch them,” Shainhouse said. “These people tend to drop everything or can’t open tight jars because their hands are so slippery.

She added that patients with the condition may experience excessively sweaty feet, which keeps them from wearing sandals or flip-flops and walking barefoot on uncarpeted floors.

“Skin on the feet can also become red or white and peeling and can become irritated or itchy,” she said.

But if you are an oversweater, rest assured. A chat with your doctor can go a long way in bringing relief to your everyday struggles.

“We have many treatment options for this condition,” Ilyas said.

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