By Merilee Kern, MBA
As women go about their daily lives at work, home and in social circles, there’s a common but hidden scourge: excessive sweating. In fact, a national survey conducted by the International Hyperhidrosis Society (IHhS)—the scholars of sweat—shows multiple millions suffer from extreme, uncomfortable, embarrassing, debilitating, and emotionally-devastating sweating. This type of sweating is a serious medical condition known as hyperhidrosis and nearly 367 million people of all ages struggle with it on their hands, feet, face, underarms, or body.
Hyperhidrosis can be devastating. While many women attempt to hide their sweating problems and suffer in silence, the impacts are often hard to cover up. Dramatic sweating in the presence of peers at work, or in extracurricular or social environments, can cause severe embarrassment, stress, anxiety, and other emotional issues. Even when women are alone, hyperhidrosis often takes a heavy toll—adversely impacting one’s productivity in a myriad of ways, both personally and professionally.
Women with hyperhidrosis struggle with disproportionate and random sweating that may drench clothing and footwear, damage technology tools, make exercising and playing sports impossible, promote hiding and isolation behaviors, degrade self-esteem, and even prompt bullying at work and elsewhere. The holistic effect on life—workplace, marital, social and otherwise—is thus profound. In fact, research published in Archives of Dermatological Research indicates that the majority of those with excessive sweating confirm the condition has negative impacts on their social life and well-being as well as their emotional and mental health. Given its extreme impacts, some do seek medical attention. It seems women are more proactive in their attempts to medically rectify the issue amid a Science Daily report that “females are far more likely to discuss their [hyperhidrosis] condition with a health care professional.”
Lisa J Pieretti, Executive Director of IHhS, notes, “The pressures of dealing with a ‘sweating problem’ around peers can be catastrophic to self-esteem and more. Too often, people become anxious about going to work, socializing with friends, or being out in public in general. But when those with hyperhidrosis receive support, understanding, and appropriate treatment, their lives can be dramatically changed.”
To that point, IHhS co-founder Dr. David Pariser urges that, while hyperhidrosis is the number one dermatological disease in terms of negatively affecting a person’s quality-of-life, it’s also number one in having the most positive impact when treated. “When hyperhidrosis is caught early, a person’s life can be transformed for the better in a multitude of ways,” he says.
With that in mind, the first step toward providing solutions for those women who sweat excessively is to bust some common myths and misconceptions with facts from the experts at the IHhS, including these:
Myth: Sweaty people are nervous or have hygiene issues.
Truth: The average person has 2 to 4 million sweat glands. Sweat is essential to human survival and serves as the body’s coolant, protecting it from overheating. People with hyperhidrosis (which causes overactive sweat glands) sweat excessively regardless of mood, weather, or activity level—often producing 4 or 5 times more sweat than is considered “normal.”
Myth: If you’re sweating a lot during exercise, it means you’re out of shape.
Truth: If you find yourself sweating a lot during exercise, don’t blame it on being out of shape. Research shows that physically fit people actually sweat more and start sweating sooner during exercise that those who are less fit. Why? Because when you achieve greater physical fitness, you can exercise at a higher level, which generates more heat, which causes you to sweat more. Another factor is how acclimated you are to your environment – for instance, if you’re used to training in hot weather, your body will sweat more and sooner during exercise because it’s become effective at knowing when sweat needs to “kick in” and start cooling you down. If, however, you sweat excessively and uncontrollably (significantly more than what seems “normal” as a reaction to exercise or heat), you may actually have hyperhidrosis.
Myth: Night sweats are a “female” problem.
Truth: Night sweats can be serious and they aren’t just something that affects menopausal women. According to Dr. Dee Anna Glaser, President and Founding Member of the International Hyperhidrosis Society as well as Professor and Vice Chairman of the Department of Dermatology at Saint Louis University School of Medicine, night sweats can be significant and shouldn’t be disregarded – no matter your age or gender. Drenching night sweats, she says, or any changes in your pattern of sweating should to be evaluated by a physician. Medical conditions with sweating symptoms can include serious infections, cancer, low blood sugar, hormone disorders (not simply the hormonal changes of menopause), and neurologic conditions. Medications may also cause night sweats. It’s important to talk to your doctor about night sweating, especially if the night sweats are accompanied by a fever or other symptoms such as unexplained weight loss. Maybe menopause is the culprit, but certainly new night sweating should be discussed with your physician. One thing you don’t need to worry about – hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating). The medical condition hyperhidrosis causes excessive sweating when awake, not asleep.
Myth: Hyperhidrosis is “just” a summer thing, or it’s at least worse during the hot summer months
Truth: Research from the IHhS also shows that profuse sweating is not simply dictated by the time of year. The majority of patients in one survey indicated that their sweating bothers them equally, no matter the season.
Myth: Excessive sweating is only a sweat problem.
Truth: Excessive sweating can contribute to a number of other problems way beyond the realm of wetness. Emotional problems such as depression, anxiety, embarrassment, and isolation are common. Practical problems with gripping objects and using touch-screen technology are also a frequent issue. But did you ever consider the effects sweating could have on sunburns, wrinkles, and skin cancer risk? If you sweat excessively – you’ll need to reapply your sunscreen more often because, you got it, you’re sweating it off and not getting its protective benefits for nearly as long.
Myth: People will grow out of hyperhidrosis.
Truth: Contrary to popular belief, research shows that hyperhidrosis does not go away or decrease with age. In fact, in one recent IHhS study, 88% of respondents said their excessive sweating had gotten worse or stayed the same over time. This was consistent across all the different age groups, from youngsters to older adults.
Myth: Antiperspirants are for underarms only and, like caffeine, are best used in the morning.
Truth: Think outside the pits! You can glide, stick, spray, and roll-on nearly anywhere that sweating is a problem (picture hands, feet, face, back, chest, and even groin.) Be smart and talk to your dermatologist first before applying an antiperspirant to sensitive areas and test new products on small areas of skin first. Luckily there are antiperspirant brands like Certain Dri—one of the most effective that can be purchased without a prescription—that are specifically developed to help those who suffer from excessive sweating. Of special note, use your antiperspirant in the evening as well as in the morning. Sweat production is at its lowest at night, giving the active ingredients in antiperspirants a time overnight to get into your pores and block perspiration when the sun comes up and you really get moving.
Myth: Antiperspirants can cause breast cancer and Alzheimer’s disease
Truth: According to the American Cancer Society, Susan G. Komen Cancer Foundation, National Cancer Institute, BreastCancer.org, and the Alzheimer’s Association, there are no strong scientific studies reporting a statistical association between antiperspirant use and breast cancer risk or Alzheimer’s risk. If you’re concerned about breast cancer or Alzheimer’s, you don’t need to ditch your antiperspirants – focus instead on having regular health screenings, avoiding alcohol, exercising regularly, eating a nutritious and balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight, staying mentally and socially involved, and protecting yourself from head injuries.
Myth: Excessive sweating is less debilitating than other skin conditions people have to deal with.
Truth: According to Dr. Pariser, hyperhidrosis has the greatest impact of any dermatological disease. In fact, various investigations show the impact of hyperhidrosis on quality-of-life is equal or greater than that of in-patient psoriasis, severe acne, Darier disease, Hailey-Hailey disease, vitiligo, and chronic pruritus.
The extreme level of sweat production experienced with hyperhidrosis can disrupt all aspects of a woman’s life, from workplace performance, relationships, recreational activities, and self-image to overall emotional well-being. But it doesn’t have to be this way. There are helpful resources available to help people with hyperhidrosis to not just “know sweat,” but to also achieve a more comfortable, fruitful and happier life.