FAQs on Excessive Sweating, Answered

Don’t sweat it. Simple advice, but for approximately 365 million people worldwide, it’s much easier said than done. Excessive sweating, or hyperhidrosis, is a medical condition with causes that are often misunderstood, says Kelley Pagliai Redbord, MD, a dermatologist practicing in Washington, DC, and faculty member of the International Hyperhidrosis Society. “It’s widely undiagnosed and undertreated.”

We asked Dr. Redbord to clear up some of the misconceptions around the condition.

What are some of the common causes of excessive sweating?

Sweating is essential. It helps keep your body cool in the heat, hydrates your skin, and balances your body fluids and electrolytes. But excessive sweating (hyperhidrosis) occurs when the body’s cooling mechanism is stuck in overdrive. Translation: You’re sweating more than necessary for your body to function.

One cause is overstimulation of the body’s sweat glands. Or it could be genetic. It can also be caused by an underlying medical condition like obesity, tuberculosis, cancer, or menopause, or from taking certain medications.

Sometimes when we get anxious or nervous, our body temperature rises, which triggers the production of sweat. Body temperature is controlled by the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that regulates sweat output, so when your core body temperature spikes because of jitters, hormones, or physical activity, you sweat.

Is body odor ever a sign of a more serious health concern?

Excess sweat secretions and the bacterial decomposition of sweat cause body odor (bromidrosis). Fish odor syndrome is caused by the inability to metabolize a component in the sweat and should be evaluated by a doctor. Odors can also come from certain foods or medications. So if you’re worried about body odor from excessive sweating, you should talk to your doctor to determine any potential underlying cause that may need to be treated.

Is it possible to be a heavy “sweater” but not suffer from body odor?

Yes, you can sweat a lot and not smell — the two aren’t always linked. We have two different types of sweat glands: Eccrine glands secrete odorless perspiration, while the apocrine glands produce body odor. The smell occurs when bacteria break down the apocrine sweat glands. In fact, people with hyperhidrosis often don’t have an odor problem because they sweat so much that the bacteria are actually swept away.

What are some of the most common misconceptions about excessive sweating?

There are plenty, such as:

  • People who sweat a lot are out of shape, overweight, or in poor health; use drugs; feel nervous; are lying. This isn’t necessarily the case. Anyone can have hyperhidrosis. And these are unfair assumptions toward someone who has a medical condition, says Redbord.
  • Antiperspirants are for underarms only. Actually, you can apply the product anywhere you sweat.
  • Antiperspirants cause breast cancer. There are no scientific data to support this.
  • Antiperspirants are best used in the morning. It’s better to apply antiperspirant at night then reapply in the morning to boost effectiveness.

Can excessive sweating be cured?

While hyperhidrosis can't be cured, with today's treatment options, it can be successfully managed. Traditional treatment options include clinical-strength and prescription-strength antiperspirants, botulinum toxin type A injections, prescription medications, energy devices, and even surgery. More recently treatment advances involve a handheld device that emits electromagnetic energy to destroy sweat glands, and a topical medication. But it’s important to talk to your dermatologist for more information on available treatments, and to find the one that might work best for you.

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