We explore what causes us to sweat, and how you can treat excessive perspiration.
While the grey clouds and drop in temperature suggest that summer’s left us for the other side of the world, think back a couple of weeks when temperatures hovered in the sweltering thirties (oh, those were the days) and you’ll also remember feeling somewhat sticky.
Sweat. It’s one of life’s least glamorous necessities and a natural bodily function we all have to endure. It not only keeps us cool, but also helps in the body’s battle against infection, as well as balancing hormones during stressful situations. Dressed up with somewhere to go on a hot day, however, it’s also rather frustrating.
We have between two and five million sweat glands on our body which when combined produce an average of one and a half gallons of sweat every day. While this might sound excessive, it is perfectly normal and 99% of the time you probably won’t notice you are secretly leaking a liquid to cool you down.
Most of the sweat we produce is created to balance our temperature and hails from the eccrine sweat glands. This sweat is watery and odourless. When we sweat for an emotional reason,the sweat comes from apocrine glands which, unlike heat sweat, is oily and produces the unpleasant odour we associate with feeling a bit clammy.
Apart from in highly stressful situations or during excessive exercise, neither of these glands should cause you too much trouble. Excessive sweating (known formally as hyperhidrosis), meanwhile, is a completely different experience. Those with hyperhidrosis can sweat up to five times as much as those with normal sweat glands and the triggers aren’t always clear. Excessive sweat is linked to the errine glands rather than apocrines which means it doesn’t have an unpleasant smell, but that doesn’t make it any less embarrassing or pleasant to endure.
Your weight and overall health can play a huge part in the amount of sweat you produce. The body needs to produce more sweat to cool you down if you’re overweight, for example. Though, perhaps rather bizarrely, sweat can also be a sign of health. If you exercise regularly, your body will have trained itself to release more sweat sooner to cool down and manage your temperature throughout your workout.
While most sufferers are perfectly healthy despite the excess liquid, too much perspiration can be a sign of an underlying medical condition. If you do sweat more than you feel you should, it is important to understand what type of sweat you are experiencing and whether you are at risk:
Localised (primary focal) hyperhidrosis:
Focal hyperhydrosis is characterised by an excess of sweat in a particular region of the body, most commonly the underarms, palms, soles, groin or scalp area. It is thought to affect around 3% of the population, most of whom are usually aged between 25-64. In primary focal hyperhidrosis, sweating is restricted to one or two areas and sufferers are otherwise healthy; it is very rare that an isolated area of excessive sweating is a sign of disease or illness.
Generalised (secondary general) hyperhidrosis:
Secondary general hyperhidrosis is less common than the localised form of the condition. It is characterised by a large amount of perspiration across the entire body rather than one specific area, particularly during sleep. The condition is known as ‘secondary’ because it is usually caused by an underlying medical condition or a reaction to medication.
Generalised hyperhidrosis can often occur alongside hyperthyroidism, diabetes, pregnancy and the menopause, and it is important to notify your doctor should it suddenly occur. It can also be a side effect of serious conditions like cancer and Parkinson’s disease. If you are concerned about any serious condition or are experiencing hyperhidrosis in your sleep, it is always advisable to seek medical advice and examination.
Despite hyperhidrosis being a common condition, few realise that treatment can be surprisingly simple, providing there isn’t a serious medical concern behind it. Sometimes simply cutting out major causes like spicy foods and caffeine can make a huge difference, as well as limiting cigarette and alcohol consumption. Overweight sufferers can often find their problem cured by losing a few pounds; fat acts as an insulator and the body has to produce more sweat in order to cool itself down. The worst area for focal hyperhidrosis is the armpits (axillas) which is often highly obvious in appearance and can cause embarrassment. But there is also a proven treatment to ease the effects and stop the sweat.
At The Private Clinic we use premium quality botulinum toxin to treat the axillas. Botox takes as little as 30 minutes and is medically proven to block the nerve action of the problem sweat glands and thus stop the problem, with results lasting between 6-12 months. It is however highly specialised, meaning you should research your practitioner fully to ensure you are completely safe. Unfortunately the regulation of botox in the UK means many poorly qualified administers exist making it not only ineffective, but also dangerous.
If you’re suffering with excess sweat, there are ways to get rid of the problem. Consult with a professional to ensure that your condition isn’t the result of something more sinister and, if you opt for treatment, ensure that your practitioner has extensive experience and knowledge.
Sweat is perfectly healthy, having your life ruined by it isn’t.
At The Private Clinic we understand that small problems can make a huge impact on your life. We have over thirty years of Harley Street medical excellence behind every treatment we offer and work with only the most qualified nurses and doctors to ensure your treatment is effective and performed safely.