For most of us, our bodies sweat to cool down and maintain a constant temperature, but for those affected by hyperhidrosis, or excessive sweating, the condition can be a detriment to self-esteem, create social isolation and keep sufferers in a prison of dark, baggy clothes to hide the perspiration.
The International Hyperhidrosis Society (IHS) views hyperhidrosis as a serious medical condition that affects about three per cent of the global population (over 200 million people). The organization focuses on research and support for people who excessively sweat, and features real stories of how hyperhidrosis damages people's lives and self-esteem, and what they can do about it.
People who sweat normally may experience the discomfort of sweat trickling down the back on a hot summer day, but imagine how debilitating hyperhidrosis could be with your entire body continuously wet and sweating, and having to interact with others.
In his testimonial on the IHS site, Paul explains his condition as "humiliating" and a "big obstacle" to dating in particular.
"I can go from having a good level of self-esteem to feeling extremely self-conscious, insecure, anxious, and depressed," he says. "Excessive sweating is something you never truly get used to. It's a constant frustration... Unless someone has dealt with it themselves, they can't really understand and that makes talking about it difficult."
Effects of Underarm Hyperhidrosis
Though the condition generally affects hands, feet and the forehead, Hyperhidrosis.ca estimates that 50 per cent of hyperhidrosis-affected people sweat excessively in their armpits, and this has specific ramifications:
1. Body Odour
When we sweat, the bacteria that sits on the surface of our skin combines with sweat to create a foul body odour smell, which is particularly pungent under the arms. Daily washing is important. Shaving or waxing under your arms can also help -- hair traps moisture and increases bacteria, so keep the underarms smooth for this reason.
2. Stained Clothing
Sweat cools the body as it evaporates, and it also helps to clear waste products like ammonia and urea. Urea is a nitrogen-present substance that is normally cleared from the blood by the kidneys and into urine. Urea makes urine and underarm sweat yellow, which leaves difficult-to-remove perspiration stains on your clothes.
Besides carrying an odour and wearing sweat-stained clothes, the emotional difficulties of hyperhidrosis are clear in Francis' story from the IHS site:
"I had seriously sweaty armpits. I could never wear cute tank tops or fun colors. I always wore bulky black clothes and jackets. I had super clammy hands and totally sweaty feet, too -- I'm talking dripping sweat.
"By the time I was 13, I gave up drawing because I was always smearing the paper. At 15, I cried because I couldn't go to a sleepover party because then people would find out about my problem. I stopped hanging out with my friends."
Eventually, Francis' mother took her to a dermatologist and her sweating subsided with the help of Iontophoresis, a sweating treatment that involves a mild electrical current to the feet and hands, and with Botox for her underarms.
Options for Controlling Underarm Hyperhidrosis
The wetness, odour, ruined clothing and embarrassment from excessive sweating under the armpits can seriously alter a person's life, but there is an effective long-term solution that can keep sweating at bay for up to nine months and beyond.
Dr. Cory Torgerson, a Toronto MD and plastic surgeon, understands the psychological, emotional and social repercussions of excess sweating, and uses Botox injections with his hyperhidrosis patients "to reduce the sweat gland activity by blocking the nerves that control that gland."
Botox is better known as an injectable cosmetic for the face, but its results on hyperhidrosis is an enormous relief to many perspiration sufferers. Dr. Torgerson reports an "extremely high" success rate for Botox on hyperhidrosis with over 80 per cent recipient satisfaction.
"Participants notice a reduction in sweating for a period of three to nine months. No major side effects have been reported, and if there is a downside, it would be that repetitive injections are required."
Indeed, the IHS is very supportive of Botox treatment for hyperhidrosis for underarms and other localized areas of the body. To excess sweating under the arms, "Botox has been shown to result in an 82 to 87 per cent decrease in sweating. Results start to be noticeable approximately two to four days after treatment with the full effects usually noted within two weeks."
Keeping dry and confident may seem out of reach to hyperhidrosis sufferers, but help is available in many different forms. Look into it; a comfortable body and a confident self is in your future.
Follow HuffPost Canada Blogs on Facebook
MORE ON HUFFPOST:
The volume or amount you sweat can be a giveaway when it comes to normal vs. abnormal sweating. Everyone sweats a certain amount a day, but if you are excessively sweating you might be suffering from hyperhidrosis, in which the body's cooling mechanism is so overactive that it produces five times the amount of sweat that you need in order to maintain consistent body temperature.
Normal: Sweating being an occasional inconvenience. Abnormal: Sweating negatively impacting the overall quality of your life.
Normal: Sweating while exercising. Abnormal: Sweating profusely when sitting in a cold room, watching TV.
Normal: Staining clothes because of sweat while exercising. Abnormal: Staining clothes with sweat while sitting in a temperature-controlled room.
Abnormal: If sweating is interfering with work and your overall professionalism.
Abnormal: If sweating is impacting your social life. If on a daily basis, you are not hugging someone or refuse to shake hands due to sweat.
Normal: When temperatures rise -- for any reason -- the sweat glands kick in to produce more sweat. This is why we sweat more in the summer. Abnormal: Sweating regardless of the heat (year round).
Abnormal: Sweating while sleeping is abnormal.
Normal: Sweating with anxiety. Abnormal: Sweating when calm.
Normal: Sweating while consuming spicy food. Abnormal: Sweating while eating ice cream.
Excessive underarm sweating is called axillary hyperhidrosis. One clue as to whether you have the condition is the way you dress. If you don't want to wear light- or bright-colored tops because you're afraid that the stains from your underarm sweating will be too obvious, or you avoid delicate fabrics such as silk because you're afraid they'll get ruined, you're likely dealing with excessive underarm sweat. Men with underarm hyperhidrosis are also likely to keep their suit jackets on, even when it's warm, because they're afraid that people will see sweat rings around their armpits on their shirts.
When you have underarm hyperhidrosis, many times it's difficult to think about anything else. You worry that others will notice that your shirt is always soaked, thanks to excessive underarm sweat. You may become self-conscious and begin to withdraw, avoiding physical contact with other people. You may even be reluctant to dance at parties or work out at the gym for fear it will make your excessive sweating worse.
If you're experiencing excessive underarm sweating, ordinary over-the-counter deodorants won't work, no matter how often you apply them. You might have some success with antiperspirants that have a high concentration of aluminum chloride, which binds to, and therefore blocks, sweat glands, but at times even that isn't enough. Asking your doctor for a prescription-strength antiperspirant is the next step. Some people who sweat too much have success with prescription antiperspirant, but occasionally further treatment is necessary, notes Jacob DeLaRosa, MD, chief of cardiac and endovascular surgery at Idaho State University's Portneuf Medical Center in Pocatello..
You expect to sweat when you work out or when you're about to give a big speech in front of a large audience, but if your armpits drip for no clear reason — breaking out in a heavy sweat any time of the day or night — you're likely experiencing symptoms of excessive sweating, or underarm hyperhidrosis. People with underarm hyperhidrosis are also likely to sweat profusely from other parts of the body, such as their hands, feet, and groin — areas where sweat glands are highly concentrated, says Charles Griff, MD, a dermatologist and medical director of the Dermatology Depot Med Spa in West Palm Beach, Fla. Hyperhidrosis of the palms is known as palmar hyperhidrosis. When you have this condition, you may have difficulty holding a pen or pencil and writing, driving a car, and using a computer keyboard, all because your hands are slippery.
Underarm hyperhidrosis has nothing to do with hygiene, says Dr. DeLaRosa. Nonetheless, people with hyperhidrosis find they soak through their shirts soon after putting them on, so they shower constantly and change their clothes several times a day. This may keep you dry temporarily, but when you have hyperhidrosis, showering frequently, even with strong soaps and shower gels, won't stop the problem. But talking to your doctor or dermatologist about treatment will, says DeLaRosa.
Some people with excessive underarm sweat also have plantar hyperhidrosis, which is excessive sweating of the soles of the feet. When your feet sweat too much, your socks and shoes get wet, leaving you feeling as if you've stepped in a puddle. You can become embarrassed about taking off your shoes and socks in public places, like the locker room at the gym or the shoe store, in part because of the ensuing odor. You may have crossed sandals off your wardrobe list because your feet are too slippery, and walking barefoot can be a problem when wet footprints get left behind.
Follow Leah Morrigan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/leahmorrigan