Excess sweating (hyperhidrosis)

Excess sweating - the medical term for this is hyperhidrosis - affects anything up to 3% of people, and over 110,000 people suffer from axillary (underarm) hyperhydrosis in Australia alone. Women seem to be more impacted than men and the condition often establishes itself in childhood or adolescence, although adult onset does also happen.

In fact it is suspected that not everyone suffering the condition reports it to their doctor, so statistics quoted may be an underestimate of the number of people with hyperhydrosis, with some reports indicating the condition being reported in only 1 case in 3.

The condition is generally described depending on which part or parts of the body are affected...

Axillary Hyperhidrosis

Is where the excess sweating occurs in the armpits. This is one of the most common types.

Palmar Hyperhidrosis

This is where the excess sweatiness affects the plams of the hands - 'sweaty palms', also common.

Plantar Hyperhidrosis

Where the condition affects the feet.

Craniofacial

Where the condition is present on the face or on the head.

In all cases the condition impacts quality of life both at work and at home and in intimate relationships. As well as the social stigma of excess sweating, hyperhidrosis has other disadvantages - sufferers need to clean clothes more frequently or buy new clothes, and with Palmar Hyperhidrosis they may have difficulty operating machinery, or for example playing an instrument or using touchscreen devices.

Although it is regarded as being a benign condition, ie of no particular danger to health in itself, it can cause other issues such as infections, both fungal (eg candidiasis) and bacterial, dermatitis/eczema (inflammation of the skin) and blisters.

Some sufferers are affected over their whole body (this is referred to as 'generalised') or it may be in only one or a few areas (then referred to as 'focal'). Hyperhidrosis is also categorised according to whether it is linked to or caused by another medical disorder, when it is referred to as 'secondary', or not, in which case it is referred to as 'primary'.

Causes

There are no clear indications of what causes the condition, although it is linked to anxiety or nervousness and in some cases it is linked to diet or lifestyle, with nicotine and caffeine for example implicated in some cases. There may also be a family predisposition to hyperhidrosis.

Secondary hyperhidrosis is linked to diabetes, thyroid or pituitary problems, obesity and menopause. It can also be caused by nerve damage from injury or disease.

Where treatment is able to abate excess sweating in one location, it may affect another part of the body. This is referred to as 'compensatory hyperhidrosis'.