Sweating is a natural part of life. It helps cool the body by regulating the body’s internal temperature by removing excess heat as sweat evaporates from the skin. Sometimes this natural function gets complicated leading to excessive sweating.
There are over 2 million sweat glands on the body but sweat mostly occurs under the armpits. The apocrine glands located in the armpits are efficient sweat producers. Sweat produced by these glands contain fatty acids and proteins that make the sweat thicker and with a yellowish or milky color. This is the reason clothes stained by sweat appear yellow.
Sweat is odorless but hair and skin bacteria metabolize the fatty acids and proteins in sweat giving it an unpleasant smell.
Excessive sweating is a common problem and unlike what most people think, it’s not caused by poor hygiene. Emotional and other special circumstances could also lead to excessive sweating. Fortunately, one can prevent and control underarm sweating, the wetness and odor.
Excessive sweating problem
Joan has had excessive sweating for as long as she can remember. It’s not only a nuisance but it’s shaped her personality and how she runs her daily activities. She shies away from social activities and growing up, she had to avoid activities like sports. She also had to carry an extra shirt to school daily due to the sweating. Sweating excessively lowers a person’s self-esteem since they fear what other people may think about them.
Excessive sweating is also referred to as Hyperhidrosis. Armpit sweating is known as axillary hyperhidrosis and tends to start at the later stages of adolescence. It’s embarrassing, since one has to deal with stained clothes, complicated social interactions and ruined romances.
Excessive sweating means that you sweat more that your body should. The body’s cooling mechanism becomes overactive and produces over four times the amount of sweat needed. Most people with excessive sweating are too embarrassed to seek medical attention for this condition not knowing that it’s treatable.
There is no reason behind the sweating and its causes are thought to be as a result of the nervous system having problems. This is known as primary hyperhidrosis. Some of these cases are hereditary and run in families making the cause a genetic mutation.
Secondary hyperhidrosis has an identifiable cause. Its triggers include:
- A medical condition causing the sweating e.g. an injury, tumor, gout or diabetes.
- Taking food supplements or medicine that’s cause excessive sweating.
- Pregnancy or menopause
- Low blood sugar
- Overactive thyroid gland
- A withdraw symptom for drug or alcohol addicts
- Parkinson’s disease
How can you tell if your sweating is normal or excessive? Those with excessive sweating have the following characteristics:
- Visible sweating even when you are not exerting yourself e.g. while sitting.
- Sweat that trickles down your clothes and makes it uncomfortable
- Skin under the armpits stays wet for long periods. Sometimes the skin turns soft or white and tends to peel off in certain areas.
- Skin infections under the armpits
How to prevent, reduce and stop excessive underarm sweating
You can prevent embarrassing situations, stained clothes, body odor and social isolations by controlling the excessive sweating problem through:
Use of deodorants and antiperspirants.
You can use deodorants and antiperspirants interchangeably. The difference between the two is that antiperspirants stop perspiration while deodorants cover up the odor. Some of the antiperspirants can also be used as deodorants but deodorants aren’t antiperspirants (unless the label says so). The market today is full of deodorants and antiperspirants for everyone. There are those designed for women, men and even teenagers.
Antiperspirants have sweat blocking abilities. They contain aluminum slats that help slow the process of sweating. Others contain aluminum chloride in high levels and this are good at fighting wetness.
Most people use deodorants the wrong way by applying them in the morning. According to Dee Anna Glaser, MD, FAAD and president of the Hyperhidrosis Society, sweat production is low at night. This gives the active ingredients in the antiperspirant a better chance of getting into the pores and blocking perspiration in the morning. “It’s okay to reapply in the morning, but don’t worry about the product washing away in the shower because the ingredients have already penetrated your sweat ducts.”
- Wear natural fiber clothes like cotton and silk to keep the skin dry and improve air circulation. During exercises wear synthetic fabrics designed to draw off moisture from your skin and reduce sweat and odor. You can also use absorbent sweatproof undershirts or underarm liners which absorb sweat.
- Start a sweat journal. Certain situations trigger excessive sweating in some people. Noting down when this occurs could help you avoid triggers like heat, anxiety and certain foods.
According to Jenny Eileen Murase, a board-certified dermatologist, “many people who excessively sweat do not realize that they have a treatable medical condition. If you think you might be sweating too much, ask a board-certified dermatologist if it’s normal. Dermatologists are one of the few doctors trained in the diagnosis and treatment of hyperhidrosis and can tell you what type of hyperhidrosis you have and the best ways to treat it.”
A physical exam is given to a patient to help understand the excessive sweating. He/she will ask specific questions and do a sweat test (some of their skin is coated with powder which turns purple when skin gets wet.)
Some of the treatments offered include:
Prescription antiperspirants contain stronger aluminum chloride concentrations. The antiperspirants work properly with sweat. Even the slightest perspiration helps break it down into particles that are small enough for the sweat ducts to absorb. According to the International Hyperhidrosis Society, the aluminum chloride temporarily plugs the ducts so that the formation and flow of sweat slows down.
This is a natural purified protein that temporarily blocks secretion of the chemical that ‘turns on’ sweat glands. This turns off sweating at the point of injection. The medicine is injected and remains just below the skin surface.
Research shows that treatment with Botox is safe and effective. An 82-87% decrease in sweat is seen in excessive underarm sweating when Botox is used. Results can be seen within 2 or 4 days after treatment. Full results however, can be seen in two weeks and the dryness can last from 4 to 12 months. Repeated treatments are also effective and safe according to the research. The treatment improves excessive sweating and the patient’s life.
It’s FDA-cleared to eliminate underarm hair, sweat and odor-producing glands permanently. It works with every skin or hair color.
A study carried out in 2013 showed that MiraDry treated axillary underarm hyperhidrosis and foul smelling sweat (axillary osmidrosis). Carolyn Jacob, MD, confirmed this when she published an article on Treatment of Hyperhidrosis with Microwave Technology: "The treatment of primary axillary hyperhidrosis can be rewarding using noninvasive microwave technology. Because the microwaves preferentially target the region of skin where the sweat glands reside, leading to localized thermolysis of the sweat glands, patients can now benefit from permanent targeted sweat reduction. The microwave treatment has been shown to be safe and effective in >6000 procedures to date."
Laser therapy is precise and powerful in treating excessive sweating of underarms. The laser treatment involves a physician targeting a specific body structure without injuring any surrounding tissue. The laser procedure is also quick to recover from and can be performed on an outpatient basis. This means that you can go back to work or home soon after you get treated.
A study carried out on laser treatment shows that side effects like swelling, numbness and bruising incurred during the treatment resolve after 1 to two weeks. The laser treatment destroys sweat glands that produce fatty sweat, reducing underarm sweating.
There are surgical options for people with axillary hyperhidrosis. The procedures are performed at the sweating point. They include liposuction, curettage and excision.
- Liposuction involves removing the sweat glands through suction.
- Curettage involves scrapping out the sweat glands.
- Excision involves cutting out the sweat glands.
Combinations of the three can be done and the techniques produce good results. Their goal is to injure or remove sweat glands so that no perspiration is produced. The sweat glands are easily accessible since they are located just beneath the skin. They are also fairly localized in the underarms, making surgery a practical option.
The dermatologist can prescribe oral medication for excessive underarm sweating. They limit excessive sweating by preventing stimulation of sweat glands.
- Apply the deodorant on clean underarms to avoid bacteria sticking on the deodorant.
- Clean your armpits and then dab dry them before applying the product.
- Let the deodorant dry fully before you get dressed.
- Apply deodorant before bed.
- Shave your armpits
Excessive armpit sweating is something you can take care off and get a new lease in life. “If you feel anxious or embarrassed by sweating, talk to your dermatologist,” said Dr. Murase. “It’s possible to find treatment that effectively controls your sweating and improves your quality of life.”