Sweating is a normal healthy process to help us regulate our body temperature. However, sometimes this system can go into overdrive, causing an excess, or hyperhidrosis. People feel extremely embarassed about this and it can create great anxiety and lack of confidence in social settings. It can be localised, such as just under the armpits, the back or on the face, or affect all over the body. There are some medical conditions that can cause this, but often there is no particular cause found.
It’s important to consider potential physical or psychological causes, as sweating may be reduced if these can be addressed or treated. Anxiety can cause excessive sweating, due to the increased heart rate and workload on the heart. Heart failure or irregular heartbeats can increase the amount of sweating in a similar way. Substance abuse such as using illicit drugs or excessive alcohol can cause sweating. Infections can cause a fever, causing the body temperature to rise and therefore sweating to try to bring it down. It may be prompted by problems with metabolism, and an overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism) would be a common cause. Women experiencing the menopause can get hot flushes that are accompanied by sweating. If you are having drenching night sweats, where you have to change your nightclothes or bedding, this could be something more serious such as tuberculosis (TB) or cancer. Excessive sweating may be something that runs in the family, and it may just be that some individuals are more prone to sweating that others.
Keep a diary of when it is worst, to identify any possible triggers which can be avoided. Avoid tight clothing and synthetic fabrics – cotton is best. Wear white or black (rather than blue or grey) clothing, to minimize the signs of sweating. Also, worth considering using underarm pads to absorb excess sweat and protect delicate or expensive clothing.
Products in the pharmacy can help with excessive sweating by masking the symptoms. Wearing moisture-wicking socks can help – you'll probably need to change them at least twice daily. You can buy absorbent sole inserts for your shoes or trainers and apply absorbent foot powder twice daily. Aluminium chloride hexahydrate preparations such as roll-on antiperspirants and sprays are available over-the-counter and will reduce your sweat rate. Speak to a pharmacist if you are unsure which products will be best suited for you.
If you are experiencing excessive sweating, your doctor will listen to your concerns, any possible triggers and how much this is affecting your confidence. If you are experiencing night sweats, especially if you’ve had any exposure to TB or you have unintended weight loss and any other symptoms, you should see your doctor urgently. Your doctor may take your vital signs – pulse rate, breathing rate and blood pressure – and they may examine you. They may send you for blood tests or other investigations, depending on their assessment. If necessary, they can send you to a hospital specialist. If there is no suspected medical condition but sweating is excessive, they sometimes refer you to a dermatologist.