Approximately 3 percent of Americans suffer from excess sweating, but the majority of them never speak to a doctor about it. Understanding more about this problem can help you get the treatment you need.

Why We Sweat

Our bodies use sweat to regulate temperature. Factors like heat, exertion, and emotional responses increase our likelihood to sweat.

How Much Sweat Is Too Much?

Different bodies rid themselves of moisture at different rates, so the best way to define excess sweating is when you sweat more than you feel is normal. If you suffer one or more of the following at least once a week, without exertion, you may have a problem:

  • Frequent sweating that soaks through clothes
  • Clammy hands and/or feet that are covered with sweat
  • Very wet armpits, palms, forehead, and/or soles of your feet
  • Prolonged periods of sweating without any reason

About Hyperhydrosis

People with primary hyperhydrosis experience excess sweating in the armpits, hands, and/or feet that can't be attributed to a separate factor. The exact cause of this disorder is unknown, but thought to be genetic. In secondary hyperhydrosis, patients experience excess sweating all over their body as a result of a medical condition or treatment. Diseases that can cause excess sweating include cancer, glucose disorders, heart disease, hyperthyroidism, lung disease, Parkinson's disease, and infections like tuberculosis. Excess sweating can also be caused by substance abuse and menopause.

Diagnosing Hyperhydrosis

A doctor will ask you to describe your symptoms and timing and may perform one of two tests. The starch-iodine test involves applying a solution and testing it to see where excess sweat occurs. In the paper test, doctors will apply a special kind of paper to the sweaty area to measure the amount of sweat your body produces.

Treating Hyperhydrosis

  • Antiperspirants. If your excess sweating mainly occurs under your arms, the first treatment step will be to try a variety of antiperspirants. These are available both over-the-counter and by prescription. If you only use a deodorant, be aware that it does nothing to stop sweating. It just  masks odor.
  • Medication. Your doctor may prescribe anti-cholinergic drugs that inhibit the sweat glands or beta-blockers to reduce stress-induced sweating.

  • Botox. Best for severe underarm sweating, Botulinum toxin type A can be injected into several places under the arms to block nerves that cause sweating. While not a permanent solution, it can offer relief for a few months and be repeated as needed.

  • Iontophoresis. For severe cases, especially ones occurring in the hands and feet, this procedure uses gentle pulses of electricity to stop sweat glands. It requires several sessions.

  • ETS (Endoscopic Thoracic Sympathectomy). This surgery is usually the last resort for people with excessive palm or facial sweating. Surgeons remove or destroy tissue near the spine that signals the body to produce excess sweat.

When Sweating Indicates a Bigger Medical Problem

If you're suddenly experiencing a cold sweat-especially one combined with chest pain, rapid heartbeat, stomach cramps, and/or lightheadedness-this could be a symptom of a cardiac, anxiety, or pain problem and you should seek immediate medical attention. Similarly, if your excess sweating has just started, you should speak to a doctor who can tell you whether this is hyperhydrosis or a more serious medical problem like hyperthyroidism.

Night Sweats

Sweating at night usually doesn't indicate a medical problem; it's more likely a result of hormonal changes or simply being too warm. Try adjusting your room temperature or the weight of your comforter. If that doesn't help, speak to your doctor, especially if night sweats interrupt your sleep on a regular basis or if you notice other symptoms like fever or weight loss.

Lifestyle Adjustments to Cope with Sweat

The International Hyperhydrosis Society offers the following suggestions to help people who sweat too much:

  • Apply clinical-strength antiperspirant morning and before bed, since this can help plug up sweat ducts.
  • Dress in layers of natural fabrics like cotton. Patterned fabrics can help conceal sweat marks.
  • Consider an odor-absorbing shoe insert if you suffer from sweaty feet.
  • If your palms get sweaty, use a pencil (which smears less than pens) and get a grip for it to help you hold on to it better. You can also buy type-through covers for your computer keyboard.
  • Avoid alcohol, spicy food, and caffeine, since these can aggravate sweating.



Mayo Clinic

International Hyperhydrosis Society

NIH Medline