Excessive Sweating Guide

Sweating is a necessary bodily function, designed to help us cope with fluctuating external temperatures and to regulate our internal temperature when we are exercising.  Your body temperature is very important to your health, too hot or too cold and you will experience real problems and even potential death.  Sweating helps us to control this, and has enabled humans to live in most parts of the world quite comfortably. It is not the act of sweating, but rather the cooling effect of evaporation that allows us to remain cool in hot climates or when undertaking exercise. Perspiration is also a result of stress or certain feelings such as fear.  This form of sweating is usually located in specific areas and is used as a way of preparing the body to either run or to fight whatever it is that could be posing a threat. Sweat is composed of mainly water, (99%), and usually has no immediate smell.  Sweat usually doesn’t cause us any problems, and using an everyday deodorant or antiperspirant will be enough to prevent any over sweating or bad odour. 

Body Areas that Sweat

Sweating occurs all over your body, your skin contains millions of sweat glands, although in certain areas there are more than others.  Sites where this occurs are more likely to sweat more, for example when you are anxious or exercising gently the first places that you will sweat are likely to be your underarms.  The most common areas for stress related sweating are the palms and hands.  It is thought that this was an evolutionary trait useful when hunting or fighting that has continued and occurs in a modern day context.  For example when you are having a job interview or arguing with your partner you are likely to notice this form of sweating.  Stress related sweating is different from exercise based sweating, occurring in different body areas and controlled by different nerves. 

Sweating of the armpits, or axillary sweating, is the most likely to cause concerns, and the most likely to produce bad smells.  This is due to the hairs and the aprocine glands that are positioned there which could produce bad smells as well as wet marks on clothing. 


Hyperhidrosis is a problem that some people experience when their sweat is heavier than normal levels.  When you have this condition you sweat heavily when it is not necessary, leading to embarrassment and difficulty in some everyday situations.  You might find that you have to change clothes regularly, that you only wear certain colours or styles of clothes or that you don’t wish to shake someone’s hand for fear of clamminess. There are no known reasons for hyperhidrosis, although sometimes they can be linked to specific medical conditions and it is even believed that hyperhidrosis could be a genetic problem with most people who suffer having a family member with the same problem.  Hyperhidrosis is not limited to a specific part of the body although often it will only occur in one area.  It can also be a sign that you have other health problems, generally this will be the case if you suddenly suffer from Hyperhidrosis without having had a previous sweat problem.  If this is the case then when the problem is treated the sweating will be reduced.  There are many ways that you can make your sweat less of a problem, and your GP will be able to help you to find ways of living with Hyperhidrosis, or reducing its effect.  Antiperspirants, Iontopheresis and even surgery can be used to treat Hyperhidrosis although you must remember that everyone reacts to treatments differently and you may have to try a few before you find something that works for you.


Not being able to sweat can also cause real problems, and could even lead to heatstroke or a coma.  If you cannot sweat, your body temperature has a risk of rising beyond a safe limit.  Anhidrois or hypohidrosis is often linked to medical problems or medications, and generally once the source of the problem is treated your sweating will return to normal.  Only in very rare cases is it a life-long problem, usually when linked to metabolism illnesses such as Fabry disease or if you suffer from a very rare genetic disorder called hypohidrotic ectodermal dysplasia.  This would mean that sweat glands have failed to develop when you were in the womb and as a result sweating cannot occur. 


The most talked about sweat problem is that of bad body odour, also known as bromhidrosis.  With this condition your sweat is very noticeable in smell, and can cause many forms of social difficulty.  The smell is produced by sweat glands in the armpits and groin areas that were previously used as scent areas.  The apocrine sweat glands around these areas produce stronger smelling sweat than elsewhere, and for some people the smell is particularly strong when bacteria breaks down the sweat produced

Having a problem with sweat control can cause both social and medical concerns but luckily most forms of hyperhidrosis or hypohidrosis are treatable, being linked to medical conditions.  Primary hyperhidrosis, however, is a more latent problem, as the causes for it are as of yet unknown.  There are treatments available for sweat problems, and you shouldn’t be shy in trying to find some help for any condition that you might have. 

Stigma Attached to Sweating

In today’s society sweat is seen as something unwanted, and someone who sweats a lot is often seen as being dirty or smelly.  This is not always true, but unfortunately it is a stigma that many people have to live with, especially if they suffer from bromhidrosis or hyperhidrosis.  There are ways that the condition can be helped, through the use of strong deodorants or, in extreme cases, surgery.  The approach that you choose ought to be your own decision, but there are many products out there to help with sweat control.   

Treatment for Sweating

There are several treatments that you can try to help with your sweating, varying in strength and severity.  Lifestyle changes can be made to make you more comfortable and to help you prevent excess sweating.  You can wear loose clothing, use absorbent patches or wash twice a day.  Antiperspirants are a good first choice if you are finding it difficult to live with your sweating, with stronger versions available within pharmacies or on prescription from your GP.  Other treatments such as Botulinum Toxin, Iontophoresis and even surgery can also be performed if other methods are failing to help. 

Why do we Sweat? »