Things Only Sweaty People Understand
Living with excessive sweating, or hyperhidrosis, can pose daily challenges â€” you may experience constant discomfort, have difficulty completing certain tasks, and struggle with social anxiety. But for many people with the condition, one of its worst aspects is that people often donâ€™t understand or relate to what theyâ€™re going through.
People who have hyperhidrosis have many resources available to them, including several online groups and forums, where they can connect with each other and share their stories and frustrations. But the reality is that you may often encounter people who have misconceptions about what â€œexcessive sweatâ€ really means.
What Life Is Like for People With Hyperhidrosis
Many people who have hyperhidrosis share these common experiences that those who donâ€™t sweat excessively canâ€™t relate to.
1. Youâ€™re not necessarily sweating because youâ€™re nervous.
While anxiety can trigger sweating for some people with hyperhidrosis, it doesnâ€™t necessarily cause sweating for all people who have the condition.
â€œI like to say, â€˜Iâ€™m not sweating because Iâ€™m nervous; Iâ€™m nervous because Iâ€™m sweating,â€™â€ says Maria Thomas, a Colorado resident who works as a marketing coordinator and blogs about living with hyperhidrosis at My Life as a Puddle.
And there are many situations, Thomas notes, in which excessive sweating can give you good reason to be nervous â€” work meetings, for example, in which your notes can get smeared, or holding a friendâ€™s baby and being afraid youâ€™ll get it wet.
2. Colder weather doesnâ€™t always mean less sweating.
â€œI would say that most people tend to sweat less when itâ€™s colder outside,â€ says Temitayo Ogunleye, MD, an assistant professor of clinical dermatology at the University of Pennsylvaniaâ€™s Perelman School of Medicine in Philadelphia. However, there are some notable exceptions.
People who usually donâ€™t sweat less when itâ€™s colder, according to Dr. Ogunleye, are those with situational sweating â€” such as before job interviews or presentations â€” and those who have hyperhidrosis that mainly affects their hands and feet.
Colder weather can also sometimes mean more sweating, since you need to bundle up when you go outside.
â€œIt can be 20 degrees outside and snowing, but I can still be sweating inside my gloves,â€ says Thomas. â€œI canâ€™t get away from the sweat, because if I take the gloves off, I could potentially develop frostbite.â€
3. Picking out clothing requires extra attention.
There are two added considerations for many people with hyperhidrosis when it comes to choosing what to wear: minimizing sweating, and trying not to let it show.
â€œGenerally speaking, I prefer darker colors,â€ says Thomas. But, she adds, â€œsome dark colors can still show sweat marks. I would say it depends on the type of fabric.â€ Thomas finds cotton and synthetic fibers that wick moisture to be among the best choices, and silk and satin fabrics to be among the worst.
Jeans are a favorite option for Caryn Toriaga, a classical flutist based in Albany, New York, whose hyperhidrosis mainly affects her hands and feet. â€œDenim is good because it usually doesnâ€™t leave a handprint,â€ she notes, â€œand it soaks up sweat pretty well too.â€
4. Everyday tasks can be more difficult with sweaty hands.
Sweat isnâ€™t just a social concern or a nuisance â€” it can interfere with daily activities.
Working in an office environment, says Thomas, means that hyperhidrosis interferes with using a computer keyboard and mouse, carrying file folders, and taking meeting notes, among other everyday tasks.
Both Thomas and Toriaga note that on public transportation, sweaty hands make it more difficult to get a good grip on a rail or pole â€” on top of the anxiety of being afraid that your sweat will drip on someone else.
For Toriaga, sweaty hands can make being a flutist challenging. â€œSweating affects the speed and accuracy of my fingers, because I need to hold the instrument differently to feel that I have more control,â€ she says. â€œOtherwise it feels like itâ€™s going to slip out of my hands.â€
And meal preparation can be a constant challenge for people with hyperhidrosis. â€œI carry around paper towels to sop up my hands,â€ says Toriaga, â€œand Iâ€™ll wrap a paper towel around the handle of a knife. Iâ€™ll get stuff stuck on my hands, and I have trouble opening jars.â€
But thankfully, for Toriaga, â€œmy husband actually does most of the cooking because he loves it.â€
5. Youâ€™re afraid to raise your arms too high.
Giving presentations and training people are occasional parts of Thomasâ€™s job, and she often feels as though she canâ€™t be as loose and relaxed as sheâ€™d like to be in these situations.
â€œIf Iâ€™m doing any type of public speaking or giving a presentation to colleagues,â€ she says, â€œIâ€™m definitely cognizant of [sweat marks] and not wanting to move my arms as much.â€
And while not moving your arms might help conceal sweat, it can make the problem worse, since youâ€™re essentially blocking airflow to your underarms.
6. You keep towels and backup clothes around.
Keeping extra clothing and towels on hand is a familiar strategy for many people who have hyperhidrosis.
Thomas usually has an extra blazer and shirt at work, in addition to a sweat towel in her desk drawer. â€œIf my sweating gets really bad on my hands or my feet,â€ she says, â€œIâ€™ll take out the towel and wipe myself down.â€
Toriaga places towels strategically in a number of locations â€” â€œin my purse, in my flute bag, at work. I have towels everywhere.â€ This includes a designated black towel that she carries onstage during concerts, since any other color would look out of place.
7. You shower a lot, but it doesnâ€™t always help.
When you have hyperhidrosis, showering often can remove dried sweat from your skin and make you feel more comfortable, but it doesnâ€™t tend to do much to reduce the amount you sweat.
â€œShowering is a winning strategy in that it can help me feel fresh,â€ says Thomas. â€œBut itâ€™s not going to stop me from sweating.â€
Thomas usually showers only once a day, but she makes an exception on particularly sweaty summer days, when sheâ€™ll shower twice. But, she says, â€œI know other people [who have hyperhidrosis] who shower multiple times a day.â€
8. Handshakes can be distressing.
â€œShaking hands is an awful experience,â€ says Toriaga, â€œespecially if itâ€™s an interview situation where Iâ€™m nervous to begin with.â€
Toriaga notes that fear of a negative reaction from the other person can be stressful, taking a toll even if that reaction never occurs. â€œFirst impressions are really challenging,â€ she says, adding that sweaty hands â€œmake my confidence level drop right away.â€
If she knows sheâ€™ll have to shake someoneâ€™s hand, Toriaga will sometimes go to the restroom and run her hands under cold water for a minute. â€œThat will regulate my hand and body temperature a little bit,â€ she says, but it wonâ€™t stop the sweating completely.
While sheâ€™s in the restroom, Toriaga says, â€œIâ€™ll take extra paper towels to put in my pocketâ€ so she can wipe her hands on them right before an anticipated handshake.
9. Chairs can often add to the stress you feel.
Most chairs have a sitting surface made of plastic, wood, leather, or fabric. Very few are made from breathable, moisture-wicking materials â€” especially in institutional settings. That means they tend to either trap moisture or leave marks when youâ€™ve been sweating.
On a recent occasion, Thomas recounts, â€œI was in a big group meeting, and there were plastic chairs. I got up and saw a coworker look downâ€ to see the sweat mark she had left. â€œMy coworker didnâ€™t say anything,â€ says Thomas, â€œbut I was mortified.â€
10. Youâ€™ve used subterfuge or told white lies to cover up your sweating.
Thomas says that sheâ€™ll often hold a cold drink in her right hand at social gatherings so that when she shakes peopleâ€™s hands, theyâ€™ll feel the cold condensation, not her sweat. â€œWe sweaty people,â€ she notes, â€œcan be pretty inventive.â€
Toriaga has at times felt compelled to make up an excuse for why her hand is sweaty during a handshake. â€œI would say, â€˜Oh, Iâ€™m sick,â€™â€ she says, â€œor â€˜I just washed my handsâ€™ or â€˜I was just holding a cold drink.â€™â€
Why the white lies? â€œIâ€™m so worried theyâ€™re going to have a response,â€ says Toriaga, explaining that although people havenâ€™t made comments, â€œseeing peopleâ€™s eyes widen â€” thatâ€™s what sinks my heart.â€
11. Youâ€™ve tried many different treatments.
Ogunleye says that by the time patients come to her about their hyperhidrosis, theyâ€™ve typically tried a variety of over-the-counter antiperspirants with limited success. â€œTheyâ€™re looking more for medical management,â€ she explains â€” which can be a challenge to get right.
Ogunleye says she also often sees people who have tried absorptive and antifungal powders, which can help keep parts of the body dry and reduce odors; others have used antiperspirants on less typical areas of the body, such as in the groin area or on their feet.
Toriaga has tried several different treatments over the years, with mixed success. Some antiperspirants, she says, â€œwere prickly and a bit painful,â€ so she couldnâ€™t continue using them. She also took an oral drug that successfully reduced her sweating for four years before it stopped working.
Ultimately, though, no single treatment, or even mix of treatments, works for everyone, so you may need to try a variety of options to find what works best for you.
One key to living better with hyperhidrosis, Thomas says, is to connect with other people who share your struggle. â€œFind people who understand what youâ€™re going through,â€ she urges, â€œand find a dermatologist who understands what hyperhidrosis is.â€
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