What causes excessive sweating? Doctor’s guide to hyperhidrosis

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It can be tricky to speak to your GP about medical concerns like excessive sweating. But it’s not as uncommon as you may think. Our Lead GP, Dr Rhianna McClymont, explains more about excessive sweating, and how a doctor can help.

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There’s no medical guidance to define a normal amount of sweating, but if you’re worried that you’re sweating a lot more than you should, and it’s started to interfere with your daily life, it’s a good idea to speak to a GP.

In the meantime, here are some key questions answered.

Am I sweating too much?

It's completely normal for us to sweat if we feel particularly hot or are doing strenuous exercise. If you notice yourself sweating a lot even when your body doesn’t need to cool down, this could be a sign that you’re sweating too much.

‘Excessive sweating usually happens to help our body cool down, but it can also happen for no apparent reason. It could be linked to a medication you’re taking or a medical condition called hyperhidrosis,’ says Dr Rhianna McClymont.

What is hyperhidrosis?

Hyperhidrosis is the medical term for excessive sweating – and because everyone’s level of sweating is different, it can often be hard to diagnose. Primary hyperhidrosis is more difficult to spot as there is no specific cause, whereas secondary hyperhidrosis has several different triggers – usually an underlying medical condition or side effect of medication.

According to the charity Hyperhidrosis UK, the condition affects around 2 in every 100 people in the UK, which means hundreds of thousands of people are having to deal with the discomfort and stress it can cause. Hyperhidrosis usually develops during childhood (or soon after puberty), but can come on at any age.

If you think you have hyperhidrosis, here are some of the daily challenges you might find difficult, or even avoid:

  • Making physical contact like shaking hands, because you feel embarrassed about having sweaty palms
  • Attending social gatherings that might make you feel even more self-conscious about sweating a lot
  • Taking part in activities like group exercise or dancing, as you’re worried it will make your excessive sweating more noticeable
  • Doing normal day-to-day activities like driving or using public transport
  • Carrying out tasks for work – from typing on a keyboard to holding tools or products
  • Spending lots of time trying to manage and cope with excessive sweating, by regularly showering, using deodorant and changing clothes

What actually causes excessive sweating?

For primary hyperhidrosis, there’s often no particular cause other than the nervous system, which controls how much we sweat. People with this type of excessive sweating usually don’t sweat in their sleep.

Secondary hyperhidrosis has a number of causes which are much easier to spot and manage. Some of the most common triggers include:

  • certain medications
  • anxiety
  • low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia)
  • overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism)
  • pregnancy
  • menopause
  • infections

‘If excessive sweating is affecting you on a daily basis, it’s definitely worth talking to a doctor to help you manage. Sometimes there’s no cause found for hyperhidrosis, but there are some medical treatments you could try which may help,’ explains Dr Rhianna McClymont, Lead GP at Livi.

A GP can help you understand the causes of hyperhidrosis, and after discussing your symptoms, they should be able to advise whether any treatment will help.

Is there a treatment for hyperhidrosis?

Depending on the level of your excessive sweating, it’s not always the easiest to treat quickly. But there are several options that may be effective in helping you sweat less.

‘The most simple, and least invasive option, is to try a strong commercial antiperspirant. Patients may also find that avoiding tight clothing and man-made fabrics is best, and wearing white or black clothing can minimise the signs of sweating,’ says Dr McClymont.

‘Topical aluminium salt preparations can also be applied to the skin to reduce excessive sweating. These preparations can be bought over-the-counter without the need for a prescription, and a pharmacist could direct you to the best choice.’

There are also lots of simple lifestyle changes that can make a big difference. You could try wearing much lighter clothing, and avoiding spicy foods or alcohol as these can be common triggers.

If these simple measures are not helpful and your symptoms are adversely affecting your life, a GP may suggest a referral to a dermatologist for specialist advice. Treatment options a dermatologist may consider include iontophoresis, which involves an electric current targeting the affected area, and other treatments involve botox injections or local surgery for more serious cases.

When should I speak to a GP?

Asking a GP for advice about excessive sweating can feel daunting. One of the great things about speaking to a Livi GP is that you can do so from the comfort of your own home which lots of patients find more reassuring.

The GP may ask about your family history of hyperhidrosis. They may also refer you for further tests or treatment if they think another medical condition may be causing your sweating.

But knowing when to ask for help can be the hardest part. So if you’ve answered yes to one or more of the below questions, book a GP appointment to find out more.

  1. Have your symptoms lasted longer than 6 months?
  2. Are you sweating a lot – at least once a week?
  3. Do you experience regular night sweats?
  4. Have you found that lifestyle changes don’t seem to be helping?
  5. Does sweating a lot make your day-to-day activities difficult?
  6. Have you started a new medication since you’ve been sweating a lot?

See a GP about excessive sweating

If you want to find out how to stop sweating excessively and get help for managing hyperhidrosis, a Livi GP can help you today.

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