A quick health lesson: Sweating is your bodys way of keeping your temperature in check and keeping you cool. When youre getting overheated-say, because youve been exercising or because its a warm day-your body sweats and then the sweat evaporates off of your skin, which helps to regulate your overall body temperature, says , a board-certified dermatologist in Orlando, Florida.
Everybody sweats different amounts, too. Some people may sweat less than a liter a day, as , while others may sweat several liters. This all depends on your body, your genetics, the climate you live in, and your physical activity levels. So if you notice you feel prettttyyyy damp under your armpits and your coworker seems totally comfortable temperature-wise beside you, dont assume you have a problem-everybody sweats differently and more or less in different parts of the body.
But if you feel like your armpits are *much* wetter than they should be (and not just when its a scorcher out there or youre standing body to body on public transportation) and it’s interfering with your life, you could be dealing with whats known as hyperhidrosis.
What is hyperhidrosis?
An estimated 3 percent of people in the U.S. deal with excessive sweating, which is known as hyperhidrosis, according to the (AAD). Someone who has hyperhidrosis sweats more than is physically necessary for the body and even when they dont need a cool-down, the AAD explains. Its not totally clear what causes hyperhidrosis in every case, but it for some people, or related to another underlying health issue.
There are two types of hyperhidrosis-primary and secondary:
Primary hyperhidrosis: This means that theres no underlying cause to your sweat, . People who have primary hyperhidrosis typically start to notice excessive sweat as a child or a teenager.
Secondary hyperhidrosis: This is when your sweating is related to some other underlying health issue-its not just a thing your body does. For example, youre taking a medication that triggered excessive sweating, you have diabetes, youre going through menopause, or you have an overactive thyroid.
Most of the time, hyperhidrosis only happens in one or two areas of the body, according to the AAD. So, you might see a lot of sweat under your armpits and on your forehead, but nowhere else.
While it sounds pretty uncomfortable, excessive sweating likely isnt a serious risk to your health. That being said, it can be a pain and a little embarrassing. Going on first dates or job interviews could lead to some pretty embarrassing situations. Maybe youd stop scheduling dates altogether or, at least, youd spend a ton of time thinking up a sweat strategy before you go out, and then worry about your sweat the whole night. That sounds pretty miserable, right?
Hopefully, that kind of debilitating sweating would lead you to a doctors office. But it often doesnt, the AAD notes. Lots of people with excessive sweating likely never reach out to a doctor for help, either because theyre too embarrassed to talk about their sweat problem or because they assume its a burden they have to bear.
But thats a mistake, because a doctor could help you figure out how to stop the sweat-and whether your sweat is excessive in the first place.
Not sure if your level of armpit sweat would quality as hyperhidrosis? Heres how to tell.
Normal is hard to quantify, Dr. Arthur notes. Sweat is one of those things that can easily freak us out, so its possible that you *think* you sweat way too much, but you actually have a totally normal amount of sweat.
So imagine this scenario: Its a nice day-80 degrees, sunny-and youre sitting in the park with friends. Youre not playing frisbee or running around or exerting yourself in any way. Youre just sitting. Itd be normal to sweat a little bit, sure, but you shouldnt feel sweat dripping from your armpits, down your back, or anywhere else. If sweat is dripping down the sides of [your body], or frequently soaking through your shirts at rest, that would be considered excessive sweating, Dr. Arthur explains.
So if a day like that does make you drip sweat, you might have hyperhidrosis. Even if you’re *still* not sure, it’s worth making an appointment with a dermatologist. The first thing your dermatologist will do is determine if you have primary hyperhidrosis or secondary hyperhidrosis.
Hyperhidrosis treatment depends on whether youre dealing with the primary or secondary type.
Your doctor will ask about your sweating history to try to determine which category you fall under. And, if its secondary hyperhidrosis, addressing the root cause (i.e. diagnosing and treating a thyroid issue or getting through menopause) should help dial down the amount you sweat.
If your hyperhidrosis is primary, then your dermatologist might first suggest that you try an antiperspirant like . Antiperspirant is different from deodorant because of its active ingredient, aluminum chloride, which plugs the sweat glands when you sweat and signals to your body to stop sweating, says , a dermatologist in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Antiperspirants are also great for people who don’t have a hyperhidrosis diagnosis but still want to quell armpit sweatiness, and you can buy antiperspirant products at the drugstore. But just FYI, if you have sensitive skin, a product like Certain Dri could cause a rash or irritate your underarms due to its active ingredients, Dr. Arthur says-so patch-test it first.
If antiperspirants dont work, there are also prescription medications (such as special wipes and pills) that could help reduce excessive sweating, Dr. Arthur says. And, finally, you can consider in-office procedures like Botox injections, iontophoresis, or Miradry.
Most people know of Botox for its power to smooth fine lines and wrinkles. But the injection has also proven to be helpful for a number of medical conditions , including excessive underarm sweat. Getting Botox shot into your underarms suppresses your sweat glands so they no longer create as much sweat. We can identify areas of excessive sweating with a starch iodine test, Dr. Adigun says. For this test, iodine is wiped on the skin and then a layer of cornstarch is spread over top. Purple dots will mark where your sweat glands are, allowing dermatologists to target those spots for treatments.
With Botox, for example, those purple dots are where your doc will stick the needle (dont worry, they numb the area first). Botox is safe and long-lasting, Dr. Arthur notes. Typically, youll need to have Botox injections done twice a year. Of course, in-office procedures like this do tend to get expensive, which means theyre typically a last resort.
The other two treatments, iontophoresis and Miradry, are also FDA-approved and safe. These use electrical currents and thermal energy, respectively, to either seriously damage or completely kill the sweat glands causing your excessive sweat. is most often used for the hands and feet, but Miradry is great for your underarms. MiraDry targets the underarm sweat glands that produce sweat and odor, Dr. Adigun says.
Miradry works like this: First, your armpits are marked with a temporary tattoo that indicates where your sweat glands live under the skin. Then, a technician uses a big, hand-held device that sends thermal energy underneath your skin while simultaneously cooling the top layer (so its not too uncomfortable for you). The heat kills the sweat glands so theyll never again create any sweat.
Youre probably thinking, but isnt sweat important? Yes, it is. But you dont need to sweat everywhere. These types of long-term or permanent treatments target specific sweat glands in the armpits, head, hands, or feet, but they dont stop your sweating overall. So even if you choose to destroy the sweat glands in your armpits, youll still sweat from your forehead, back, and other body parts, giving you that much-needed cooling effect.
The bottom line: If sweat-in the armpits or anywhere else-is derailing your life, speak up. Your primary-care physician can refer you to a dermatologist, who can help determine whether or not youre dealing with hyperhidrosis and craft a plan of attack to get rid of your underarm sweat.