In a recent yoga class, I struggled to hold my downward-facing dog. It wasn't a crisis of technique or strength, but of sweat--my hands and feet kept sliding farther toward the opposite ends of the "nonslip" mat. As a fitness fanatic, this isn't the first time that excessive sweating has affected my workout. I've had free weights slip from my grip, left wet handprints on the floor post-pushups, and suffered armpit chafing and blisters after even a quick 5k.
Sure, we all sweat when we exercise--we see it as proof of exertion, a hard workout completed, a sign of athleticism. Sweat is the body's natural way of cooling itself down. But for people with hyperhidrosis, excessive localized sweating usually in the hands, feet and underarms, it doesn't take a workout to work up a sweat. In fact, it often occurs when one is inactive. While there are no dire medical consequences, hyperhidrosis can affect and limit everyday activities. Holding hands might inspire dread, blouses are quickly stained and even wearing flip-flops could prove problematic.
"Hyperhidrosis is equally common in men and women, but it's more apparent and debilitating in women because excessive sweating is more of a stigma for them," says Christopher Knott-Craig, MD, at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, chief of pediatric cardiothoracic surgery at UT Medical Group and foremost surgeon of hyperhidrosis therapy. "It may affect their work, education, or social interactions. For example, a police officer might not be able to hold onto her weapon properly, a nurse may not be able to hold onto a patient, and a businessperson may not be able to shake hands with clients." The good news is that if you suffer from this sweaty syndrome, you can fight it with an arsenal of information and treatments. Read on to learn more.
THE STORY BEHIND THE SWEAT
Four million sweat glands are scattered across the body, with 75 percent (called eccrine sweat glands), clustered on the soles of the feet, palms, forehead, cheeks, and armpits, according to Audrey Kunin, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and founder and president of DERMAdoctor. Unconscious triggering of the sympathetic nervous system causes the eccrine glands to form sweat, usually in response to emotion, exertion, hormones or signals from the brain. But with hyperhidrosis, none of these need be present.
"Hyperhidrosis is caused by the hyperactivity of the sympathetic nervous system," says Knott-Craig. "Just like a thyroid gland may be overactive and causes a debilitating illness as a result, if a segment of the nerves on the inside of the chest is overactive, it causes excessive sweating most commonly in the hands, feet and armpits. It can suddenly star for no reason whatsoever--even when the individual is quietly watching TV. Within minutes, their hands or feet may be dripping."
The face, groin, under the breasts and cleavage are areas that can also be susceptible to mega-moisture. When it comes to runners, wetness protection is key: "Excessive sweating can certainly lead to blisters and chafing, which is why it's important to control it," Kunin says. "Also, yeast likes to grow in warm, moist places, which can lead to an infection called intertrigo in body folds, such as under the breasts. Protect those areas prior to running to help prevent these concerns." To avoid chafing, try MISSIon High-Performance Anti-Friction Cream ($10, missionproduct.com)