Excessive Sweating: Embarrassing, Treatable
Nearly 8 Million Americans Affected, but Help Is Available
July 29, 2004 -- New research suggests nearly 8 million
Americans -- almost 3% of the U.S. population -- routinely suffer from
excessive sweating, a figure higher than previously believed.
"We're not talking about someone who gets a good sweat from
a workout," says dermatologist Dee Anna Glaser, MD, of Saint Louis
University, who conducted the study. "We're talking about a person who is
sitting at their desk in a cool office, and going through their T-shirt, their
shirt, and maybe even their jacket, with underarm sweat stains. Teenagers who
are afraid to be called on in class because they are dripping in sweat. Babies
who can't hold their bottles because they slip from the sweat in their
They are victims of hyperhidrosis, a condition that causes them
to sweat excessively on specific areas -- their underarms, face, palms, or the
soles of their feet.
"I have women patients who only wear black because it's the
only color that doesn't show the stains under their arms," says Heidi
Waldorf, MD, director of laser and cosmetic surgery at Mt. Sinai School of
Medicine in New York, who was not involved in Glaser's research but says it
doesn't surprise her. She says that people who suffer from hyperhidrosis
frequently carry numerous outfits to change into throughout the day.
"I hear the same stories over and over again," Waldorf
tells WebMD. "It's an incredibly embarrassing condition, especially since
we think of people who sweat profusely as being untrustworthy, devious, and
Many Affected, Few Seek Help
And apparently, it's a condition more common than previously
believed, according to Glaser's research, published in the August issue of the
Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. In her study, she and
her colleagues surveyed 150,000 households across the country. Nearly 3% of
those surveyed -- some 6,800 people -- met the criteria for having the
condition. She says some past research has estimated that less than 1% of the
population has hyperhidrosis.
"I'm a little surprised at the high percentage of those
affected," Glaser tells WebMD. "But what really surprised me is how
many people -- approximately two in three -- had never spoken to a health
professional about their condition, many thinking that nothing can be done
But there are several medical and surgical treatments
available, including Botox injections, which this month was approved by the FDA
to treat "primary axillary hyperhidrosis" -- severe underarm sweating.
That approval was based in part by another study by Glaser, expected to be
published in coming months.
The 'Home-Run' Treatment
Botox, is derived from the bacterium Clostridium
botulinum. It blocks nerves that trigger the sweat glands. Despite
the recent FDA approval, Botox injections have been used by dermatologists for
about 10 years -- not only to treat underarm hyperhidrosis, but also that of
the palms, soles, and face.