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Excessive sweating (hyperhidrosis)

6-minute read

Key facts

  • Excessive or uncontrollable sweating, also known as hyperhidrosis, can be very distressing and embarrassing, but it's quite common.
  • People with hyperhidrosis sweat a lot for no apparent reason, even when they aren’t hot and not exercising.
  • Usually, excessive sweating is not associated with illness or disease, but occasionally there is a medical reason that might cause you to sweat excessively.
  • Your doctor can help you understand the cases of your hyperhidrosis, check for any underlying conditions and suggest treatment and management options.
  • There are lifestyle strategies that can also help you manage your situation. If you are distressed by your condition, it can help to talk to a counsellor or psychologist.

What is excessive sweating?

Excessive or uncontrollable sweating, also known as hyperhidrosis, can be very distressing and embarrassing, but it's quite common.

Around 3 in every 100 Australians have excessive sweating, meaning they sweat a lot for no apparent reason, even when they are not hot or doing physical activity. If you have this condition, you might sweat so much it soaks through your clothes.

If you live with hyperhidrosis and your condition bothers you, you can get help. Treatments can help lessen the impact of excessive sweating on your life.

There are 2 types of excessive sweating:

  • Focal hyperhidrosis: excessive sweating with no apparent cause in certain areas of the body, usually the armpits, hands, feet or face.
  • Generalised hyperhidrosis: excessive sweating that affects the entire body, usually due to an underlying medical problem.

What causes normal sweating?

Sweating normally happens when you get very hot or exercise. Your nervous system triggers the sweat glands to produce fluid that evaporates and cools your body. You can also sweat sometimes if you’re feeling anxious or nervous.

What causes excessive sweating?

Most people with excessive sweating have a condition called ‘idiopathic hyperhidrosis’. This means that the cause is unknown. It’s possible that the nerves that usually make you sweat may become overactive and trigger the sweat glands even without heat or physical activity.

This type of hyperhidrosis often runs in families. It can be worse if you are nervous or stressed. It most commonly affects your armpits, then your palms and feet and least commonly your face.

For some people, excessive sweating is caused by a medical condition. It’s important to see your doctor so you can be tested to rule out a medical cause such as:

Some medicines can also cause excessive sweating.

What are the complications of excessive sweating, and how is it diagnosed?

Excessive sweating in itself doesn’t affect your health, but it can affect your quality of life. Many people with this condition find it can make them unhappy, depressed, anxious or embarrassed. It can affect people's social lives, work, relationships and level of confidence. You might feel that your choice of clothing is restricted, for example, if you tend to wear black so sweat stains are less visible. It can also lead to complications such as skin conditions like eczema, and physical discomfort.

To diagnose hyperhidrosis, your doctor will examine you and may do some tests to rule out a medical cause of your excessive sweating.

How is excessive sweating treated?

Most people with excessive sweating don't realise they can get help, but there are several things you can do, and treatment may include:

  • Medicines: including strong antiperspirants (containing aluminium), nerve-blocking medicines, antidepressants or botulinum toxin type a (Botox) (this works by reducing the amount of sweat produced by sweat glands when injected around the glands). These treatments tend to provide temporary relief and they don’t work for everyone. There may be side effects like skin irritation from antiperspirants, dry mouth and problems urinating from oral drugs, or nerve weakness from Botox.
  • Therapy: psychotherapy, behaviour therapy and relaxation techniques to help you reduce anxiety and improve your quality of life.
  • Iontophoresis: a mild electrical current is delivered through water to areas of affected skin.
  • Surgery: if your hyperhidrosis is severe, your doctor may recommend surgery to remove the sweat glands or sever the nerves. This can be a more permanent solution, but side effects can include damage to other organs and sweating in other areas after surgery to one area.

Looking after yourself

If you suffer from excessive sweating, it's important to keep the affected areas as clean and dry as possible. You could use absorbent pads to stop the sweat from soaking through your clothes.

Make sure you carry a spare set of clothes and choose natural fibres such as silk or cotton that allow your skin to breathe. It is important to drink plenty of water to replace fluid lost when you sweat.

If the sweating affects your palms, wearing gloves may help you with day-to-day tasks. If it affects your feet, take your shoes and socks off to air your feet when you can.

If you are upset or embarrassed, it can help to talk to a counsellor or psychologist.

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Last reviewed: May 2022


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