Sweat, as stinky and uncomfortable as it can be, is a natural and healthy part of life, helping to cool the body. But excessive sweating can pose problems in your social life and relationships, and perhaps even to your emotional health.
How can you tell if you sweat excessively, beyond the body's normal needs? Check the answers below to find out.
Why Do I Sweat?
Sweat helps maintain a normal body temperature. "Sweating is your body's way of reducing your internal body temperature," says dermatologist Patricia Farris, MD, a clinical assistant professor of dermatology at Tulane University in New Orleans.
When temperatures rise -- for any reason -- the sweat glands kick in to produce more sweat, Farris says. You might have a fever. You might be nervous. It may be hot outside. Or you may be exercising.
This is why "in summer, we sweat more," says Eric Schweiger, MD, a dermatologist and clinical instructor of dermatology at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, New York.
Even your diet can play a role in your sweat output. "Some people have a sweating response to spicy foods," Schweiger says, as well as some hot foods or beverages.
Sweating: What's Normal, What's Not?
"The amount of sweat considered normal is quite variable and depends on the demands of the body," says Dee Anna Glaser, MD, a professor of dermatology at St. Louis University, in St. Louis, Mo., and president of the International Hyperhidrosis Society.
People may sweat less than a liter, or up to several liters a day, based on what they're doing.
"It is going to depend on whether you are an office worker in a climate-controlled building, or a roadside worker in Alabama," Glaser says.
If you're exercising or doing manual labor in a hot climate, expect to sweat a lot. It's normal.
What Is Excessive Sweating?
Excessive sweating, also called hyperhidrosis, means that you sweat far more than your body needs you to sweat. For example, if you sweat while sitting calmly at your desk, that is excessive sweating.
In hyperhidrosis, the body's cooling mechanism is so overactive that it produces four or five times the amount of sweat that you need. About 3% of the population has excessive sweating.
Because people have different "sweat needs," doctors say they can't put a solid number on the question: how much sweat does it take to be diagnosed with excessive sweating?
"It's very difficult to quantify, but most people really do understand when they are sweating too much," Glaser says.
''If you think you are sweating more than everyone else, or more than you used to, there is probably an issue going on," she tells WebMD.
Patients are very good at knowing how much is too much, Schweiger agrees. "Pretty much anyone who comes to me [complaining of] excess sweating has it," he says.