Excessive Sweating Hyperhidrosis

Authored by Dr Colin Tidy, 23 Jul 2017

Patient is a certified member of
The Information Standard

Reviewed by:
Prof Cathy Jackson, 23 Jul 2017

Excessive sweating (hyperhidrosis) means that you sweat much more than normal. Excessive sweating occurs even when you are not hot, anxious, or exercising.

Excessive sweating (hyperhidrosis) can be really distressing. Some people with excessive sweating avoid social contact with others because of embarrassment about the problem. However, the condition is usually treatable so it's always worth discussing the problem with your doctor. See separate leaflet called Sweaty Feet.

Hyperhydrosis means excessive sweating and can have many causes. Excessive sweating in the armpits, hands, feet and creases is treatable. Other causes include spinal disease, anxiety, heart problems and some cancers. It is worth discussing concerns with your doctor

There are three main types of excessive sweating:

  • Primary (idiopathic) focal hyperhidrosis. This means that excessive sweating occurs in one or more of the following focal places: palms of your hands, soles of your feet, your armpits (axillae), or your face and head.
  • Secondary focal hyperhidrosis. Excessive sweating occurs in one particular part of your body. But, unlike primary focal hyperhidrosis, there is a known or likely cause of the excessive sweating.
  • Generalised hyperhidrosis. Excessive sweating occurs all over your body.

It is important to know which type you have because the causes and treatments are very different.

Read more about the different types and causes of excessive sweating.

Mild excessive sweating may just need a few simple measures such as avoiding a particular type of soap or eating spicy foods that trigger excessive sweating. Use an antiperspirant regularly and wear loose clothing. If you have excessive armpit sweating then aluminium chloride antiperspirant is more effective than normal antiperspirants.

Learn more about self-help for excessive sweating.

If simple advice doesn't help then a skin specialist (called a dermatologist) may use various treatments to help reduce the sweating. These include:

  • Medication. Various medicines have been used to reduce sweating. For example, propantheline is a medicine that can help to reduce excessive sweating that is caused by eating or drinking.
  • Iontophoresis. This is a treatment that uses electrical stimulation. It is used mainly to treat sweating of the palms and/or soles. It can also be used to treat armpit sweating. It works well in most cases.
  • Botulinum toxin injections. This is an option that usually works well for armpit sweating. Treatment consists of many small injections just under the skin in the affected areas.

Surgery

An operation is an option for people who have not been helped much by other treatments, or if other treatments cause unacceptable side-effects or problems.

  • For armpit sweating one option is to remove the sweat glands in the armpit. Laser treatment can also be used to destroy the sweat glands in the armpit.
  • For palm sweating, an option is to have an operation to cut some of the nerves that run down the side of the spinal cord. These nerves control the sweat glands in the hands. The operation is called endoscopic thoracoscopic sympathectomy.
  • Surgery is not usually done for sweating of the soles. Although cutting the nerves next to the spinal cord in the lower back region may cure the problem of sweating, there is a high risk of this also affecting sexual function.

Find out more about the treatments for excessive sweating.

Although not a medically serious condition, excessive sweating can be very embarrassing. For example:

  • If you have bad palm sweating you tend to have a cold, sweaty handshake and sweat may drip from your hands on to work documents, computer keyboards, etc.
  • If you have bad armpit sweating, you may become embarrassed by the frequent wet patch that develops on clothes under your arms.
  • You may need to change clothes during the day.
  • You may avoid social contact or avoid doing sports because of embarrassment about the condition.

Other complications are uncommon. In some cases, the affected skin can become sore, irritated and prone to infection. There is a risk of developing dermatitis on the affected skin.

Further reading and references

I am 63 and for the last 22 years have suffered with excessive sweating on my head and face, which seems to be getting worse.  This is uncomfortable and embarrassing.  If I do anything even slightly...

gill22568
Health Tools

Feeling unwell?

Assess your symptoms online with our free symptom checker.

Start symptom checker
Listen