Dr. Jacqueline Gerhart: Why Do Some People Sweat More Than Others?
Madison, Wisconsin - UW Health Family Medicine physician Jacqueline Gerhart writes a column that appears Tuesdays on madison.com and in the Wisconsin State Journal. Columns are re-published here with permission.
Dear Dr. Gerhart: Is there a reason some people sweat more than others? My boyfriend always says I have really sweaty hands and feet, and I seem to sweat more than most people. It's pretty embarrassing. I've tried extra-strength deodorants and anti-perspirants without much help. What else should I do?
Dear Reader: Sweating is our body's normal cooling mechanism. Increased sweating can occur when your body is warm (such as when you are ill), when the environment is warm (a hot summer day), when exerting yourself (during exercise) or when under anxiety or stress (like giving a speech). These reactions are healthy and normal.
A sign that your sweating might not be normal is if you have excessive sweating that soaks through your clothing without the above triggers. This is called hyperhidrosis, which comes from the Greek "hyper" meaning "over" and "hydro" meaning "water."
So hyperhidrosis is when your body "over waters" itself. The condition is most common on the hands and feet. Hyperhidrosis becomes a problem if you change your daily activities or your lifestyle based on your increased sweat.
The first thing to determine is if your feet and hands are hot and sweaty or if they are cold and clammy. Although both can be associated with hyperhidrosis, this distinction may help determine if there is an underlying problem.
For example, cold or clammy feet could mean a circulation problem, an infection, or Raynaud's Syndrome, which is when a person's extremities turn pale from a trigger like extreme cold. If you are hot and sweaty, this could indicate a thyroid issue, a blood-sugar change, or menopause.
Also, determine when the symptoms happen. Do they only happen when you are stressed? Perhaps seeing a counselor or enrolling in a yoga class could help.
For those who sweat at night, think about your environment. Is your home too warm? Do you have too many covers? Are you using a down comforter or heavy quilt that is trapping your warmth? Are you wearing flannel pajamas? It might be time to put away the flannel and down and switch to lightweight, breathable cotton — the weather is getting nicer.
What else can you do? To help keep the sweating at bay, be sure to wear breathable socks and shoes, and change your socks often. Bathe every day, and dry your hands and feet completely. You may even need to use a blow dryer on the "cool" setting.
If you notice your feet are warm and sweaty, go barefoot at home. If they are cool and clammy, put on some socks — go for wool socks to wick away moisture but keep warmth.
See your doctor for prescription-strength anti-perspirant. Warts and fungal infections are more common in people with hyperhidrosis, and these can be treated by your physician as well.
If these techniques don't work, your physician may consult a dermatologist for help with medications or even Botox, which in special circumstances can temporarily relieve hyperhidrosis. In extreme cases, surgery may also be appropriate.
This column provides general health information and is not specific advice intended for any particular individual(s). It is not a professional medical opinion or a diagnosis. Always consult your personal health care provider about your concerns. No ongoing relationship of any sort (including but not limited to any form of professional relationship) is implied or offered by Dr. Gerhart to people submitting questions.
Date Published: 05/01/2012