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Excessive Sweating

People with excessive sweating (hyperhidrosis) sweat profusely, and some sweat almost constantly. Although people with a fever or those exposed to very warm environments sweat, people with excessive sweating tend to sweat even without these circumstances. Excessive sweating may affect the entire surface of the skin, but often it is limited to the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, armpits, or genital area.

Usually, no specific cause is found. However, a number of disorders can cause excessive sweating.

People who sweat excessively are frequently anxious about their condition, and it may lead to social withdrawal. This anxiety may make the sweating worse.

Severe, chronic wetness can make the affected area white, wrinkled, and cracked. Sometimes the area becomes red and inflamed. The area may emit a foul odor (bromhidrosis) due to the breakdown of sweat by bacteria and yeasts that normally live on the skin. Clothing may also become soaked with sweat.

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Excessive sweating can be controlled to some degree with commercial antiperspirants. However, stronger treatment is often needed, especially for the palms, soles, armpits, or genital area. Applying an aluminum chloride solution at night may help—prescription and nonprescription strengths of this drug are available. A person first dries the sweaty area and then applies the solution. If the response is inadequate, a plastic film can be applied over the solution to enhance its effectiveness. In the morning, the person removes the film and washes the area. If the solution irritates the skin, the plastic film should be left off. Some people need two applications daily; this regimen usually gives relief in a week. Then an application once or twice a week is sufficient to maintain relief.

A solution of methenamine also may help. Tap water iontophoresis, a process in which a weak electrical current is applied to the sweaty area, is sometimes used. Drugs taken by mouth, such as phenoxybenzamine and propantheline, sometimes control sweating, and injections of botulinum toxin

A into the affected area diminish sweating. If drugs are not effective, a more drastic measure to control severe sweating involves surgically cutting the nerves leading to the sweat glands. Excessive sweating limited to the armpits is sometimes treated by liposuction to remove the sweat glands.

For people in whom odor is a problem, cleansing twice daily with soap and water usually removes the bacteria and yeast that cause odor. In some people, a few days of washing with an antiseptic soap, which may be combined with use of antibacterial creams containing clindamycin or erythromycin, may be necessary. Shaving the hair in the armpits may also help control odor. Clothing should be washed often as well.

Resource: Merck Manual Home Edition

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