Soaking in sweat and seeking solutions

Originally Published: November 1, 1994 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: February 17, 2012
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Dear Alice,

I am a twenty-six-year-old male and currently a first-year business student at Columbia Business School. I have always had a sweating problem which traces back to my childhood. However, my sweating was restricted mainly to my hands. Sweaty palms are annoying enough, but now I realize that this is only a minor nuisance compared with the one I have now. Large crowds and high intensity environments make me uncomfortable; I often find myself sweating profusely at these meetings.

Alice, is there something wrong with my metabolism? I am in decent shape and make it to the gym at least three times a week. I really don't feel as nervous as I appear. Unfortunately, it's hard not to be embarrassed by the fact that the Atlantic Ocean is on my forehead. It is the conspicuous sweating that makes me sweat even more because I feel as if the entire world is staring right at me! How can I correct this sweating problem? Is it a physical or an emotional problem?

Sincerely,

Walking Sponge

Dear Walking Sponge,

A sticky situation indeed! Profuse sweating that occurs at times other than in hot conditions or after exercise is usually due to a rare disorder called hyperhidrosis, marked by perspiration produced in abundance by overactive sweat glands. Excessive sweating may be all over the body or be limited to certain areas of the body. It most commonly affects the underarms, palms of the hands, and soles of the feet, although it has also been known to affect the face, neck, backs of the knees, groin, and beneath the breasts. It is a condition that affects both men and women and usually begins during childhood or at puberty, but improves spontaneously for many people in their mid-twenties or early thirties. The hyperhidrosis itself can cause anxiety or distress for people who have it, which leads to additional sweating, which as you mentioned, further incapacitates them during social and business interactions. Fortunately, more treatment options have become available to help improve the quality of life for people with hyperhidrosis.

First things first, you may want to make an appointment with your health care provider. This is to make sure that you don’t have secondary hyperhidrosis, that is, an underlying condition which is causing the profuse perspiration. If this was the case, the underlying condition would most likely need to be treated first, which would also probably solve your sticky hand situation. If you are a student at Columbia, you can call Columbia Health at x4-2284 or log onto Open Communicator to make an appointment.

Once you rule out any underlying causes, your provider may recommend one or some of the following treatments, depending on how severe the sweating:

For mild hyperhidrosis:

  • Apply talcum or cornstarch powder to perspiration-prone areas.
  • Use an unscented, aluminum salt-containing antiperspirant, preferably one that's specifically made for application on palms and soles.
  • Dust medicated powder on affected areas to help soak up sweat and prevent bacterial growth.
  • For damp feet, slip on cotton socks and shoes. Alternate footwear to allow them to air and dry out in between wears. Regularly use and replace absorbent insoles in shoes.

For moderate or persistent hyperhidrosis:

  • Apply aluminum chloride paint (or other aluminum salt preparations) to perspiration-producing areas to block your sweat pores.

For severe hyperhidrosis:

  • Take a prescription anticholinergic drug recommended by your provider.
  • See your dermatologist. A doctor can inject Botox into affected areas, alleviating symptoms for up to six months.
  • Some individuals are able to successfully utilize biofeedback to learn to manage their sweating.

Here’s to hoping you find some drying relief soon,

Alice