- When sweating is excessive (with no apparent cause)
- Causes of hyperhidrosis
- How do I know if I suffer from hyperhidrosis?
- Can hyperhidrosis be treated?
Sweating is a normal physiological process of the body that helps it regulate its temperature. We sweat more when we are too hot or when we exercise; the sweat evaporates from the skin and has a cooling effect. We also tend to sweat when we feel anxious about a situation that makes us nervous. In times of stress, the sympathetic nervous system responds by preparing the body for action.
The circadian rhythm increases while the circulatory system dilates to provide more blood to the muscles. Breathing speeds up and we begin to sweat. You begin to see the connection between the fight response and sweaty hands. And this is normal. But why do some people’s hands sweat excessively, even when circumstances are not conducive to it?
When sweating is excessive (with no apparent cause)
In people who have excessive sweating or hyperhidrosis, the sweat glands (specifically, the eccrine glands) overreact to stimuli and are usually overactive, producing more sweat than necessary. In some cases, people with excessive sweating are often said to have sweat glands trapped in the “on” position.
Excessive sweating, or hyperhidrosis, is an overcompensation of the sweat glands’ response to the sympathetic nervous system. When none of the triggers (stress, heat, exercise…) occur, sweating goes into “off mode”. When it does not, it can be referred to as hyperhidrosis. Primary hyperhidrosis is the most common.
It affects certain parts of the body such as the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, armpits, or face. Palmar hyperhidrosis, which affects up to 3% of the population (although it is estimated that more than half of people are never diagnosed or treated for their symptoms due mainly to lack of awareness), has a significant impact on quality of life. It is characterized by chronic excessive sweating, which is unrelated to the normal need for heat loss.
Causes of hyperhidrosis
In many cases, hyperhidrosis has no specific cause. It is thought to be the result of a problem with a part of the nervous system, known as the sympathetic nervous system, and genes may also play a role. This nervous system controls most of the functions of the body that do not require conscious thought, such as the movement of food through the body.
This system also acts as a kind of thermostat. If it senses that it is getting too hot, it sends a signal from the brain to the millions of sweat glands to produce sweat. As we mentioned earlier, there is one particular type of sweat gland, the eccrine glands, which are the ones involved in hyperhidrosis.
There are more of these glands in areas such as the armpits, hands or feet. It is believed that in cases of primary hyperhidrosis, the brain sends signals to the eccrine glands, even though there is no need to cool the body. Most commonly, hyperhidrosis begins in childhood or adolescence and may improve over the years.
Moist palms can cause discomfort and interfere with work and personal relationships: embarrassment when shaking hands, difficulty writing with a pen, using keyboards, playing a musical instrument, etc. According to a study on the effects on patients’ lives, 90% of people with hyperhidrosis acknowledge that the condition affects their emotional state. In addition, severe and chronic sweating can cause the affected skin to become whiter, wrinkled, and cracked, and sometimes the area may become red and inflamed.
How do I know if I suffer from hyperhidrosis?
Diagnosis is usually made from a clinical evaluation and visual inspection. The Minor (iodine-starch) test can help locate the affected areas. It consists of applying a 2% alcoholic solution of iodine to the test area and then spraying it with starch. The hyperhidrosis area solubilizes the iodine, which promotes a reaction with the starch. As the iodine atoms become trapped, a higher concentration is evident in the areas that sweat the most.
The diagnosis is usually confirmed when:
- There is excessive sweating for six months or more.
- The sweating involves the armpits, hands, or feet.
- Sweating is symmetrical.
- There is a decrease in sweating during the night.
- Sweating episodes last at least seven days.
- Sweating impairs activities of daily living.
Can hyperhidrosis be treated?
There are a variety of treatment options to reduce sweat production. Treatment usually starts with simple, non-invasive options, and progresses to more severe treatments when others fail.
Professional medical treatments for hyperhidrosis
Aluminum chloride is the most common active ingredient. It can block sweat glands and help stop sweating. It comes in creams, sticks, gels, and sprays. They should be applied at night, on dry skin. Application every night for one or two weeks may irritate the skin.
It consists of a device that uses containers of water to conduct a mild electrical current across the surface of the skin. It is believed that the electrical current and the mineral particles in the water work together to microscopically thicken the outer layer of the skin, which blocks the flow of sweat to the skin surface. When this sweat production is blocked or interrupted, sweat production on the palms suddenly “shuts down,” says the International Hyperhidrosis Society.
Botulinum toxin injections
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows this treatment for the underarms, although some studies suggest it may also be effective in other areas of the body. The injections temporarily block a chemical in the body that stimulates the sweat glands. The effect usually lasts four to six months.
There are drugs for palmar hyperhidrosis that act as antagonists of the sweat gland receptors. They act on the whole organism, so they are not usually the first choice.
Psychotherapy can be of great help in the case of hyperhidrosis of psychological origin. It acts on the anxiety and insecurity caused by sweating hands and helps them to cope better with the psychological impact that sweating can have on them.
If the above treatments have not worked, your doctor may recommend surgery, in most cases a minimally invasive procedure called video-assisted thoracic sympathectomy. It involves interrupting a specific portion of the main sympathetic nerve, which is part of the autonomic nervous system. Through two small incisions under the armpit, a specific ganglion that causes sweating is located and removed. The signal that tells the body to sweat in a specific region is “turned off,” reducing localized hyperhidrosis.
Home remedies for treating hyperhidrosis
In addition to the medical treatments that we have mentioned and as complementary measures, there are natural remedies that can help us to alleviate the sweating of the hands. However, they will not solve it definitively.
They can help you on a day-to-day basis. But it is up to you to choose the best method depending on the severity of the problem.
Baking soda is a very suitable method to treat excessive sweating. Thanks to its alkaline power, baking soda helps us to treat sweating and keep our hands dry.
How to do it? Just dissolve some baking soda in warm water and soak your hands in this preparation for ten minutes. Your hands will be dry.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Organic apple cider vinegar can keep your sweaty palms dry by balancing the pH levels in your body. You can wipe your palms with apple cider vinegar and leave it on overnight for the best of effects. You can also include two tablespoons of the same vinegar in your daily diet. It tastes best with honey and water or with fruit juice.
The astringent property of sage removes excess oils from the skin and prevents sweating. This property can also reduce the odor caused by sweating.
For best results, you can try putting a handful of sage leaves in water and then soaking your hands in the mixture for about 20 minutes. The option of drinking sage tea, if you don’t dislike its taste, is highly recommended.
Adding sage leaves to food or drinking sage tea can alleviate hand sweating. You can also carry dried sage in a cloth sachet in a pocket and put your hand on it to absorb and prevent perspiration.
Tea is an excellent sweat controller and a good deodorant. It is worth trying it as a topical remedy.
To do this, boil a glass of water and put 5 tea bags in it. Once ready and while it is still warm, dip your hands in it for about ten minutes. The result is always good.