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Hyperhidrosis

Hyperhidrosis is a disorder where an individual sweats more than the body normally would to regulate body temperature. It affects approximately 3% of Canadians. Hyperhidrosis can seriously affect quality of life – it can make a sufferer feel awkward in personal and business situations, and can have an emotional, social, and physical impact.

The two types of hyperhidrosis are:

  1. Focal Hyperhidrosis – also known as primary hyperhidrosis. It is localized to one of more of the following areas:
  • Underarms (axillary hyperhidrosis)
  • Hands (palmar hyperhidrosis)
  • Feet (plantar hyperhidrosis)
  • Face (facial hyperhidrosis)

The cause of focal hyperhidrosis is unknown, but the way it affects sufferers appears to be related to over-activity of the central nervous system, which causes an overactive stimulation of local sweat glands.

  1. Generalized Hyperhidrosis – also known as secondary hyperhidrosis. This is caused by another underlying condition, such as endocrine disorders, menopause, obesity, nerve damage, or even some types of medications. It generally occurs over the whole body, and is usually treated by addressing the underlying condition.

There are several ways to treat focal hyperhidrosis:

  • Topical treatments – Antiperspirants and deodorants containing aluminum chloride and alcohol seem to be most effective in reducing wetness and fighting odour. The application of aluminum chloride hexahydrate (Drysol®) has been shown in clinical study to reduce sweating by approximately 50% for mild hyperhidrosis sufferers.
  • Iontophoresis can be used for people with hyperhidrosis of the hands or feet. Each hand or foot is immersed in a tray with a water-soaked pad. The pads are connected to a low-intensity electric current that passes through the liquid to the skin to disrupt the function of the sweat glands. As there is a potential for skin irritation, this application is not usually recommended for underarm or facial/head hyperhidrosis.
  • Botulinum Toxin Type A (BOTOX®) injections are appropriate for moderate to severe hyperhidrosis sufferers. These injections interrupt the signal from the nerve to the sweat gland to reduce sweating in the affected area. In clinical study, sweating was reduced 83% in 95% of participants. Side effects, if they occur, are temporary, including pain at the site of injection.
  • Surgery is often a last resort when other therapies have failed. Hyperhidrosis of the hands can be treated with a procedure known as endoscopic thoracic sympathectomy (ETS), where doctors cut or clip the nerves that cause abnormal sweating. Surgery for extreme axillary hyperhidrosis (underarm sweating) is surgical excision of the axillary glands, where the sweat glands are actually removed.

If you would like to learn more about hyperhidrosis, ask your doctor, or click on the links below for further reading.

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