When sweating isn't hot

Excessive sweating can be a sympton of several illnesses and a doctor must be consulted for a diagnosis. / Supplied
Excessive sweating can be a sympton of several illnesses and a doctor must be consulted for a diagnosis. / Supplied

Sweating is part of everyone's daily lives. We sweat it out at the gym or one might work up a few droplets of sweat during a heat wave.

But for some people, sweating is a major problem that they face every day.

They sweat excessively and no amount of deodorants can assist. This can really have an impact on their social lives, not to mention that it can be downright embarrassing.

But, what causes some people to sweat excessively more than others?

"Sweating is a normal process that the body goes through to cool itself down. When the temperature rises, sweat glands are triggered, resulting in sweat," says physician Nelson Ngobeni.

"This is why you may sweat when it is a little bit hot outside or when doing any physical exercise.

"But in the case of excessive sweating, or hyperhidrosis, the sweat glands are triggered despite there being no physical exertion or any rise in temperature.

"The nerves that trigger the sweat glands become overactive, resulting in excessive sweating that may affect the face, armpits, palms and feet."

No job, no date ... because of the pools of water around her

A 32-year-old Canadian woman, Lydia Carroll, recently made headlines for being the most sweaty person in the world.

According to reports, Carroll sweats so much that she literally leaves puddles of sweat on the floor.

She told UK newspaper The Sun that her condition was severe, even as a baby. She stated that when she was in her cot, sweat would drip down onto the floor, with her family members often mistaking it for urine.

Carroll said that she hopes that a permanent cure for her hyperhidrosis can be found soon, as it has affected her life severely.

Sweating means she's unable to keep a job or to even date.

Ngobeni says there is no known medical cause for hyperhidrosis, but that the condition is two-fold.

"We have primary and secondary hyperhidrosis. With primary hyperhidrosis, some experts have stated that it is a genetic or hereditary condition, while with secondary hyperhidrosis, it may be a sign of an underlying medical condition like an overactive thyroid, diabetes and menopause," he says.

"One needs to seek medical attention to rule out secondary hyperhidrosis."

The bad news is that there seems to be no direct cure for hyperhidrosis, but certain medical interventions may assist with the condition, depending on its severity.

Ngobeni says that in the case of secondary hyperhidrosis, lab tests are usually conducted to determine the root cause of excessive sweating.

Once that condition is treated, the patient usually sees improvement in their sweating patterns and can resume to live their normal life.

In the case of primary hyperhidrosis, Ngobeni says that it gets a bit more complex.

"A lot of people with primary hyperhidrosis tend to be frustrated because most procedures or remedies they try often prove temporarily successful before their excessive sweating resumes," he says.

"There are strong, prescription-based antiperspirants that may offer relief for underarm sweating, but unfortunately they do not work for everyone. Some people opt to have botox injections, which have been known to block off the nerves that cause sweating. This also provides temporarily relief as the effects can last anything from six months to a year, before the procedure needs to be repeated.

"The problem with this is that every area of the body that experiences excessive sweating will need to be injected individually, which can not only be very painful, but very costly as well.

"Other avenues that can be explored involve using the often-not-recommended medication for incontinence, such as oxybutynin, which some people report work for their primary hyperhidrosis.

"The problem with this route is that the medication is not a cure for hyperhidrosis, but its side-effects may prove successful in reducing excessive sweating.

"It is definitely not medication that one can take indefinitely, as it has massive side-effects like a very dry mouth and nausea."

In extreme cases, Ngobeni says that surgery to remove the sweat glands may be an option, but he also says that this is an avenue that may be considered only as a last resort.

"The surgery is known as endoscopic thoracic sympathectomy, that can assist with excessive sweating of the face, armpits and hands. Most surgeons do not recommend it for sweaty feet because of the possible side effect of permanent sexual dysfunction," he says.