Everyone sweats when they get too hot, but if you're frequently dripping in sweat for no reason, you could have hyperhidrosis, a treatable medical condition.
"Sweating is a normal response to heat or anxiety," says Hunter Q. Kirkland, MD, a cardiothoracic surgeon at Cardiothoracic and Vascular Surgeons in Austin, Texas. But while sweating is the body's way of cooling off, some people sweat excessively and for no apparent reason, making them feel as though they're living in a sauna. This is due to a medical condition called hyperhidrosis, which affects almost 3 percent of the population — about 8 million Americans. Though excessive underarm sweat isn't serious or life-threatening, it can be embarrassing and make you uncomfortable and anxious.
It can also make you withdraw and disrupts your daily activities, DeLaRosa says. If you experience any of these signs of hyperhidrosis, talk to your doctor. You can start with medical management, including prescription antiperspirants, medications, or botulinum toxin type A injections and other procedures. In the most extreme situations, more permanent solutions, like surgery, may help.
Here's how to tell whether you are exhibiting signs of hyperhidrosis or if your sweating falls into a normal range.
It's Impossible to Keep Clothes Dry:
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.
Deodorants Don't Do Enough:
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 Can't Stop Thinking About It:
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.
You Shower All the Time:
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.
You're Sweating For No Reason:
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.
You're Sloshing In Your Shoes:
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.