When the body temperature rises, sweat is produced. This, in turn, has a cooling effect through evaporation.
The average adult can produce up to half a litre of sweat per hour, while a trained athlete can produce up to 3-4 litres in an hour.
Excessive sweating affects many people, who either suffer in silence or who are detected by people close to them. These people may find it difficult to inform the affected person of the problem.
1. How common is excessive sweating?
Up to 3% of the US population is affected and excessive sweating may be much more prevalent here in South Africa as a result of our warm, tropical climate.
2. Does sweat smell?
Sweat is odourless. However, bacteria can break down sweat from the apocrine glands, which are mainly found in the armpits. This process produces a repulsive smell.
3. Where and when does excessive sweating occur?
The most commonly affected areas of the body are the palms, soles and the armpits. An important fact is that excessive sweating occurs only when the affected person is awake. It stops during sleep.
4. Why does one sweat excessively?
Up to 80% of affected people have a family member with a similar problem. While most are healthy, a cause can be found in a minority of individuals.
Diabetes, thyroid problems and other hormonal disturbances can increase sweating. Some people with infections like tuberculosis and those with certain rare cancers can also suffer from excessive sweating.
Many medications have been implicated, including diabetes medication and antidepressants.
It's important to consult a dermatologist to make an accurate diagnosis and exclude external causes.
5. What are the available treatments?
- Use of roll-ons containing aluminium chloride salts can be of great help.
- Iontophoresis: This is a simple procedure, whereby a small current is passed through the affected area. When performed regularly, this blocks the release of sweat.
- Botulinum toxin A ("botox") injections can produce good results. However, anaesthesia should be given and the procedure needs to be repeated every four to six months.
- Certain oral medications may help (e.g. clonidine and clonazepam).
- When everything else fails, the last resort is to surgically remove the problematic area. This procedure usually leaves a lot of scarring.
- Sympathectomy is another complex procedure that's rarely performed nowadays. It entails the removal of the nerves that stimulate the sweat glands.
This and other embarrassing questions will be answered weekly by sexologist, Elna McIntosh and dermatologist, Dr Rakesh Newaj.
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