Does excitement and stress make you sweaty
and sticky even when it’s not that hot outside?
Is your clammy handshake making you feel
and self-conscious? Here’s what
to do if you’ve shed one bead of sweat too many
By Dr Bets Breedt, Health24
Almost all of us sweat heavily from time to time as a natural response to heat,
exercise, stress or even spicy food. But
when being drenched in sweat becomes
a social problem, chances are you’re one of
around three per cent of people worldwide
who suffer from primary hyperhidrosis,
otherwise known as excessive sweating.
Hyperhidrosis can be such a huge
embarrassment that sufferers are reluctant to seek help from their
doctors. But that would be a big mistake. There’s a good chance
your condition can be cured and at the same time your GP can
make sure your sweating isn’t the result of a disease that needs
Most cases of excessive sweating are caused by an overactive
sympathetic nervous system which controls, amongst other things,
the sweat glands in the torso and groin. People with overactive
sympathetic nervous systems are almost always dripping with
sweat irrespective of the weather or other triggers such as stress.
Sweat is most prevalent in the armpits, the palms of the hands and
the soles of the feet. It stains clothes, makes your shoes smell bad,
gives you a clammy handshake and even makes it difficult to drive
or hold a pen or knife tightly. This can make social, work and
romantic situations really tricky.
Primary hyperhidrosis is treated on different levels. The simplest
therapy will be tried first and if that doesn’t work a more drastic
treatment will be proposed.
- Solution 1: Antiperspirants
Over-the-counter products The first step is to try an
antiperspirant – but choose one that lists aluminium
chloride as one of its ingredients. These form tiny plugs
in the pores that temporarily block the sweat glands.
They must be applied every 24 to 48 hours and you should
see an improvement after three weeks.
If necessary, there are stronger antiperspirants containing
aluminium chloride hexahydrate that you can try. Examples
are Drichlor, PerspireX, Drysol and Xerac AC and they vary
in price from between R100 and R150 a bottle.
How well do they work? Antiperspirants are moderately
successful and offer short-term relief. Try different brands
to find the one that works best for you.
Drawbacks The products can cause skin irritation and
a burning sensation.
- Solution 2: Iontophoresis therapy
Your hands or feet are placed in ordinary
tap water and a weak electrical current is
passed through your skin. This causes sweat
glands to secrete less perspiration.
The procedure is done by dermatologists
and at beauty salons and costs about
R310 a session. Unfortunately it’s not
covered by medical aids.
You start off with two to three sessions
of 10 to 20 minutes each a week or an
hour-long session once a week. As the problem improves
you’ll only need a session every one to three weeks.
A normal perspiration pattern usually develops after
six to 10 treatments.
In South Africa only hands and feet are currently treated
with iontophoresis. It’s not painful but it isn’t suitable for
pregnant women or people with pacemakers. You can buy
your own iontophoresis machine for about R2 500.
How well does it work? It’s just as effective
Drawbacks Some find it a bother and it has to be
constantly repeated. It can also cause skin irritation.
- Solution 3: Medicine
Prescription drugs can be used to keep the
neural impulses governing sweat glands
under control. They include Pro-Banthine,
Ditropan, Dixarit, Paroxitine, gabapentin,
amitriptyline, propranolol and diltiazem.
The cost varies from R30 to R200 a
month and the medicine is available
from pharmacies on prescription.
How well does it work? It decreases sweating
but doesn’t stop it entirely.
Drawbacks Side effects can include a dry
mouth, dulled vision, water retention, constipation
and palpitations. People with certain
conditions such as asthma and low
blood pressure can’t take these drugs at all.
- Solution 4: Botox
The same substance used against
wrinkles and muscle spasms can also
improve excessive underarm sweating.
A total of 50 units of botox are injected
into about 20 spots under the arm and provide about
six months’ relief from underarm hyperhidrosis.
injections are a little painful but an extremely fine
needle is used. Botox has not yet been approved for the
treatment of palm and sole sweatiness. A dermatologist,
plastic surgeon or doctor specialising in botox treatments
does the procedure.
How well does it work? It reduces sweating substantially
and sometimes stops it entirely.
Drawbacks It’s expensive – about R4 500 per treatment –
and must be repeated every six months or so. Some
medical aids pay, but not all of them.
- Solution 5: Surgery
A scalpel can effectively stop excessive
sweating but it should be a last resort.
There are always risks attached to surgery
and your doctor will discuss them with you
at length. For these operations you should
budget for R25 000 or more and the
reimbursed amount varies from one
medical aid to another.
Keyhole operation through
What happens? Sympathetic nerves or
nerve bundles are removed, burnt or tied
off. Your chest has to be opened and
a lung deflated to provide access.
How well does it work? Hand sweating
improves by more than 85 per cent.
It helps with face and arm perspiration
to a lesser degree.
Drawbacks It’s a big operation with
several possible complications including
a collapsed lung. Your skin could feel
warm and dry afterwards. Hyperhidrosis
could start occurring in other parts
of your body – this happens to 30 to
50 per cent of patients. About five to
10 per cent of patients could begin to
struggle with excessive sweating when
they eat and there’s a one per cent
chance of eyelid paralysis.
Removing nerves in the groin
What happens? Nerves and nerve bundles
in the groin are removed, burnt or tied off.
How well does it work? There’s a 90 per
cent success rate for foot hyperhidrosis.
Drawbacks Sometimes you start sweating
more in other places because you
can no longer perspire through your
feet. Sexual dysfunction is also a
possible complication and this procedure
should therefore be a final resort.
What happens? Thirty per cent of the
sweat glands are removed through tubes
in a similar procedure to liposuction.
How well does it work? You’ll permanently
perspire less in the treated areas.
Drawbacks You could have scars under
that can cause
- Hormonal fluctuations
due to menopause or
- An overactive thyroid
- Diseases such as TB, leukaemia
of the colon or tonsils.
These conditions cause
Did you know?
sweating is not
only a result of
Keep your cool
- Tannin in tea can help with sweaty feet. Soak your feet
in a bucket of tea solution.
- Wear loose clothes made of materials that don’t stain.
- Change your socks or stockings several times a day.
- Wear absorbent inner soles in your shoes and change them often.
- Wear leather or cotton shoes and cotton socks.
- Don’t wear the same shoes two days in a row – give them
a chance to dry out.
- Apply powder after a bath.
- Avoid coffee, tea, chocolate, spicy foods and foods containing
caffeine. They speed up your heart rate and breathing, which
can make you sweat more.
- Keep a glass of water at hand to press your palms against
to cool them down.
- There’s nothing wrong with using a handkerchief to wipe your
face and hands when necessary.
Hope for heavy sweating