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Excessive sweating (hyperhidrosis)

3-minute read

Excessive or uncontrollable sweating, also known as hyperhidrosis, can be very distressing and embarrassing, but it's quite common. Treatments can help lessen the impact of excessive sweating on your life.

What is excessive sweating?

As many as 3 in every 100 Australians have excessive sweating, meaning they sweat a lot for no apparent reason, such as being hot or doing physical activity. If you have this condition, you might sweat so much it soaks through your clothes.

There are 2 types of excessive sweating:

  • Focal hyperhidrosis: excessive sweating 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 excessive sweating?

Sweating normally happens when the nervous system triggers the sweat glands to produce fluid to cool the body. This can happen in response to the temperature, physical activity or stress.

Sometimes, the nerves 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.

Excessive sweating can also be caused by a medical condition such as:

Some medicines can also cause excessive sweating.

Symptoms and diagnosis of excessive sweating

Excessive sweating in itself doesn’t affect your health. But many people with this condition find it can make them unhappy, depressed and embarrassed. It can affect people's social lives, work, relationships and level of confidence. It can also can lead to complications such as skin conditions like tinea and 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 possible treatments include:

  • Therapy: psychotherapy, behaviour therapy and relaxation techniques to help you reduce anxiety and improve your quality of life.
  • Medicines: including antiperspirants, nerve-blocking medicines, antidepressants or botox (this works by reducing the amount of sweat produced by sweat glands when injected around the glands).
  • Iontophoresis: a mild electrical current is delivered through water to areas of affected skin.
  • Surgery: as a last resort, your doctor may recommend surgery to remove the sweat glands or sever the nerves.

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 social worker.

Not sure what to do next?

If you or someone you know are concerned about excessive sweating, try healthdirect's online Symptom Checker and get advice on when to seek professional help.

The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it's self care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: December 2019

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