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How Much Sweating Is Excessive?

By Anna Nguyen
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Starting in fourth grade, Sophia Z. Wastler remembers always pinning her elbows to her side. She never wanted to raise her hand in class to answer a question. Excessive sweating constantly left sweat rings under her arms -- even when it wasn’t hot.

It wasn’t until years later in her early 30s that Wastler mentioned to a doctor that her hands were always sweaty. The doctor then told her about hyperhidrosis, a condition where someone sweats unpredictably and more than needed.

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“There were psychological implications that came from the hyperhidrosis. I didn’t know anyone else that this was happening to. From that point on in fourth grade, I felt that I was trying to do a lot of hiding,” said Wastler, a Virginia Beach, Va., resident who is now 36. “What is this thing that was happening to me that no one else had?”

Wastler, a volunteer with the International Hyperhidrosis Society, hopes more people will learn that there are treatments for excessive sweating and not wait years to see a knowledgeable doctor who can help.

Almost 8 million people in the U.S. are estimated to suffer from hyperhidrosis. Of this group, only about 40% have discussed it with a health care professional.

WebMD spoke with dermatologists to discuss what’s normal when it comes to sweating -- and what to do if you’re sweating too much.

Why We Sweat

Regular sweating controls our body temperature and body water. We always sweat to some degree, but it’s more noticeable in hot environments, during exercising, or in times of physical or psychological stress, says Nowell Solish, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at University of Toronto.

We have 2-4 million sweat glands in our bodies, concentrated on the forehead, face, hands underarms, and feet. They produce sweat that's excreted through skin pores to protect us from overheating. As the sweat evaporates, it cools our skin down, says David Pariser, MD, professor in the department of dermatology at the Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, Va.

Why Some of Us Sweat Too Much

There are two types of hyperhidrosis: Primary hyperhidrosis, which occurs on its own, and secondary hyperhidrosis, which is caused by medications or other underlying health problems. This article focuses on primary hyperhidrosis.

Many people with hyperhidrosis sweat about four times more than normal, although it could be much more or much less. The key is that they sweat a lot at times the body does not need to cool down. Someone could be calm, relaxed, and cool, but still sweat excessively, Solish says.

Researchers aren't sure what causes hyperhidrosis, but doctors think there may be something wrong between the pathways from the sweat glands to the brain. It appears that the glands are too sensitive in people with hyperhidrosis, Solish says.

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