Perspiring too much?

When is perspiration normal, and when is it a sign of a bigger problem?

12 May 2014
by Karen Nel

Sweat is the body’s way of cooling itself down. When your body gets too hot, the sweat glands kick into action, releasing sweat which subsequently evaporates from the surface of your skin and helps to cool you down. The following triggers are normal causes of sweating, which occur in different people in varying degrees:

Hot weather and humidity prompt the body to respond by sweating to help keep you cool.
Exercise increases the body’s core temperature and the sweat glands respond by releasing sweat to cool you down.
Strong emotions such as excitement, anger or stress commonly cause sweating under the arms, as well as on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet.
Eating spicy foods stimulates nerve receptors in your mouth which then send a (faulty) message to your nervous system that your body is hot, which is why people tend to sweat when eating strong curries or other spicy foods.

What is excessive sweating?

Excessive sweating (known as hyperhidrosis) occurs when your body produces large amounts of sweat for no clear reason – for example, the weather is cool and you are sitting still and are not emotionally stressed. Hyperhidrosis can be localised (restricted to certain areas of the body) or generalised (occurring all over the body).

• Localised hyperhidrosis is also known as primary focal hyperhidrosis. “It often begins in childhood or adolescence and is usually localised to areas like the palms, soles and underarms. Although it can be annoying, it is not usually a cause for concern as it is not the result of an underlying medical condition or side effects of medication,” says KwaZulu-Natal dermatologist Dr Imraan Jhetam. Primary hyperhidrosis can be treated via the use of deodorants or antiperspirants (see paragraph deodorants vs antiperspirants, below) or a treatment known as iontophoresis, during which an electrical current is passed through water, thereby restricting the production of sweat by the sweat glands. More extreme options include the use of Botox injections or surgery to remove sweat glands.

• Generalised (or secondary) hyperhidrosis, on the other hand, is caused by an underlying medical condition such as tuberculosis, thyroid problems, cancer or diabetes. “It may also be triggered by numerous medications, the most common being tricyclic antidepressants,” says Dr Jhetam. Menopause can also cause women to experience generalised hyperhidrosis. Because secondary hyperhidrosis is caused by an underlying condition or medication, it typically resolves once the underlying cause has been addressed. If you notice that you are sweating excessively all over your body, or you wake up at night drenched in sweat, it’s a good idea to visit your doctor for a check-up.

Is it possible to sweat on only one side of the body?

“Sweating on one side of the body only is known as unilateral hyperhidrosis. It’s best to seek immediate medical attention if you notice this, as it can be associated with cancers in the chest cavity, or brain conditions such as stroke,” says Dr Jhetam.

Deodorants vs antiperspirants – what’s the difference?

Deodorants and antiperspirants have different ways of working. A deodorant won’t stop you from sweating, but it counteracts the unpleasant sweaty smell by targeting the bacteria that are responsible for the odour. An antiperspirant, on the other hand, contains ingredients like aluminium that actually stop you from sweating.

Clicks stocks a wide range of deodorants, antiperspirants and combination products. Browse the products on offer for something that suits your needs.