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Hyperhidrosis and Sweating: When Should You See a Doctor?

Excessive sweating (hyperhidrosis) isn't life-threatening, but it can threaten your quality of life. How do you know when it's time to see a doctor about excessive sweating?

Sweating Too Much? It's Up to You.

How can you tell if your sweating is excessive?

No one can say how much sweat is "too much." There's really no effective and convenient way to measure the total amount of sweat.

Excessive sweating is instead defined as any amount of sweating that causes problems or distress. The exact causes aren't known, but from 1% to 3% of people suffer from hyperhidrosis.

Hyperhidrosis usually starts in adolescence or young adulthood. Sweating is worst in the palms, soles, or underarms. When excessive sweating is limited to these areas, it's called focal hyperhidrosis.

Most people with focal hyperhidrosis are otherwise completely healthy. Studies suggest that they are no more nervous or easily upset than people who sweat normally.

At the same time, hyperhidrosis can cause real problems. Most people feel extremely embarrassed by their excess sweating. They frequently report frustrations or problems with things most people take for granted:

  • Frequently changing clothing because of underarm sweating
  • Avoiding shaking hands
  • Missing out on social gatherings due to concern about sweating
  • Challenges with romantic relationships
  • Difficulty writing because the pen slips or sweat soaks through ink on the page

In fact, one-third of people with focal hyperhidrosis describe their symptoms as significantly affecting their quality of life.

Hyperhidrosis Treatments Can Help

Despite the serious negative impact hyperhidrosis has on the lives of those who suffer from it, most never seek treatment.

Generally, people with focal hyperhidrosis have been living with their problem since they were young. After learning to live with excessive sweating, they often don't recognize their problem is treatable.

That's too bad, because effective hyperhidrosis treatments are available. Although no treatment is perfect, hyperhidrosis medications and procedures can help many people with the condition.

Hyperhidrosis: Seeing a Doctor Can Help

The answer to "when should you see a doctor?" is, as soon as you feel excessive sweating is causing problems in your life.

Some primary care physicians or general practitioners are familiar with the initial treatment of focal hyperhidrosis, which may include:

  • Over-the-counter (OTC) antiperspirants: these can be applied to the hands and feet, as well as the armpits. Hyperhidrosis that's controllable by OTC treatment doesn't need a doctor's visit. Antiperspirants can even be used at bedtime. 
  • Prescription antiperspirants: Most people with hyperhidrosis will sweat through OTC antiperspirants. A doctor can prescribe a higher-strength, aluminum salt-based antiperspirant. This can be effective for mild cases of excessive sweating.

Dermatologists are generally the best doctors for treating excessive sweating that's not controlled by OTC products. They are usually more familiar with hyperhidrosis treatment, especially when sweating is severe. Depending on your insurance, you may need a referral to a dermatologist from your regular doctor.

WebMD Medical Reference

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