Working up a sweat on the treadmill or in a class can be an immensely satisfying experience, as long as you’re wearing appropriate clothing and have showering facilities available afterwards. But when you find yourself drenched at the merest hint of activity and at inopportune times, sweat can start to seriously hamper your quality of life.
Excessive sweating, or hyperhidrosis, is a common condition that can affect people of all ages. If it’s a problem that you suffer with then a natural, and recommended, first step is to try to solve it with changes to your lifestyle. These can be as simple as wearing black or white clothes to minimise how much sweat can be seen, or changes to your diet – drinking less alcohol and fewer caffeinated beverages can help, for example, as can avoiding spicy, high-fat or processed foods.
Sometimes, however, lifestyle changes simply won’t be enough, and there are more extreme treatments available that can help with hyperhidrosis. For more information on the condition, including the signs that should prompt you to visit a doctor and the treatment options available, we spoke to Dr Steve Iley, medical director of Bupa UK.
What counts as excessive sweating?
Everyone sweats, so how do you know if you’re sweating too much?
“Sweating is the body’s way of regulating its temperature,” says Iley. “It occurs when your sweat glands produce perspiration that’s carried to the skin’s surface.”
“There are no guidelines to define what is normal, but if you find you’re sweating even when it’s cold or find it uncontrollable in warm temperatures, you may have hyperhidrosis.”
“Hyperhidrosis occurs when someone’s sweat glands don't shut off, causing them to sweat excessively. It can develop at any age, but it usually starts during childhood or puberty.”
How common is hyperhidrosis in the UK?
Hyperhidrosis is a common condition, affecting 2-3% of the population in the UK.
Is hyperhidrosis dangerous? When should you visit a doctor?
“You may become dehydrated quicker if you’re excessively sweating, so it’s important to keep your fluids up,” says Iley.
“I’d recommend seeing the doctor if it is interfering with your day-to-day life, or if you start excessively sweating suddenly. Your doctor will look at what may be causing you to sweat and discuss treatment options with you.”
What can you do to reduce sweating?
How you tackle excessive sweating depends on whether it is primary or secondary hyperhidrosis.
“For someone with primary hyperhidrosis the sweat is released from the eccrine sweat glands,” says Iley.
“These make up the majority of the sweat glands in your body including areas such as your feet, palms, face and armpits.
“In most cases, primary hyperhidrosis can be treated with non-surgical treatments, including over-the-counter or prescription-strength antiperspirants that contain aluminium; medications that affect the nerve signals sent to the sweat glands; low-intensity electrical current treatment called iontophoresis; or Botox injections for underarm sweating.”
If you have secondary hyperhidrosis it’s important to understand what’s causing the sweating before looking for a cure.
“Sweating from secondary hyperhidrosis is quite different as it tends to happen all over the body or in one general area instead of on the hands, underarms, face or feet.
“Secondary hyperhidrosis is triggered by either medication or a medical condition. Several common medical conditions including obesity and diabetes can cause secondary hyperhidrosis.
“In these cases, uncovering the underlying condition behind the sweating and treating it can help to curb the sweating.”
What lifestyle changes can you make to avoid excessive sweating?
Outside of specific treatments for sweating, there are several changes to your diet and lifestyle you can try to curb the issue.
“Avoid triggers such as alcohol and spicy foods, drink plenty of water and try wearing loose, light clothes,” says Iley. “Wearing black or white clothes can help reduce the signs of sweating.”
Your diet in particular is worth considering. Avoiding these four triggers might help reduce your sweating.
“Alcohol can increase your heart rate and dilate the blood vessels in the skin, which increases your body temperature.” says Iley.
“Caffeine stimulates your central nervous system, increases your heart rate and raises your heart rate, all of which will make you sweat.
“Spicy foods such as hot wings and jalapeño chillies contain a chemical called capsaicin. This chemical fools your body into thinking the temperature is rising, causing you to sweat.
“Fatty or highly processed foods can also cause you to sweat because they are more difficult for your body to digest, causing it to work harder.”
Are there more extreme treatments available?
If your hyperhidrosis is very serious and doesn’t respond to any common treatments, surgery can be an option.
“Surgery is only considered as a last resort for someone with severe sweating in their hands and underarms and may involve removing sweat glands from the affected area,” says Iley.
“There is another surgical procedure that may be considered – thoracic sympathectomy. During this operation a surgeon cuts off the nerves responsible for sweating.”
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Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.