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When most of us think about sweating — or, more specifically, excessively sweating (hyperhidrosis) — we tend only to consider the physical impact it has on people. You know, like how uncomfortable it is getting drenched from head to toe in sweat, or that dreaded prickly sensation that arises when perspiration is near.
An estimated 2.8% of Americans experience excessive sweating of the underarms (axillary hyperhidrosis) or of the palms and soles of the feet (palmoplantar hyperhidrosis). What folks often fail to recognize, however, is that hyperhidrosis (the condition in which one over-sweats) can have mental and emotional consequences on people as well. It can even get to the point where it becomes debilitating. Just like with any chronic condition, hyperhidrosis is a condition that impacts people’s lives daily, and contrary to popular belief, it does not matter what time of year it is. Dermatologist and psychiatrist, Amy Wechsler, says it can be the middle of winter, and those with hyperhidrosis will still be sweating bullets. “It doesn’t matter what season it is, people with this condition struggle with it year-round — it’s always an issue to some extent unless they’re on medication for it,” she explains.
Because sweating is so visible, and, in most cases, quite hard to hide, Wechsler says this can cause stress, anxiety, and shame in those who struggle with perspiring an aggressive amount. Dermatologist and founder of Smarter Skin Dermatology, Sejal Shah, echoes this statement: “Sweating is often difficult to cover up, which can cause severe embarrassment and stress, and because of these feelings, individuals who suffer from hyperhidrosis may lack self-esteem and isolate themselves, potentially leading to other emotional issues like depression and loneliness,” she explains.
Wechsler also touches on the stigma there is when it comes to sweating a lot, and points out that this is another factor that plays a major role in people’s mental health. “Sweating can be very socially stigmatizing; people sweat through their clothes, so they feel like they have to be wary about what fabrics and colors to wear. They often become anxious about sweating in public, which in turn makes them sweat even more,” she says. She adds that hyperhidrosis can also sometimes make it difficult to do simple things — such as shake hands with someone or speak in public.
Sarah, 17, who has hyperhidrosis, says they don’t mind when they sweat from working out, but feels different when it’s just a matter of say, walking to class. “I love skateboarding, so whenever I’m sweating after skating that’s a good thing because it feels like I gave it my all, but just walking to class and sweating, it’s like, ‘Uhhh, this is annoying.’”
Additionally, Michelle, 35, manages a restaurant and says it’s frustrating when she’s moving around so quickly and gets a sweat stain on her shirt, as she doesn’t want people to see the amount of exertion she’s going through. “I want everything to seem effortless,” she says.
One way New York City-based dermatologist Joshua Zeichner measures how much hyperhidrosis affects one’s wellbeing is by assessing how much it impacts their quality of life. “There are certain markers of this, including multiple changes a day, clothing color selection, and avoiding certain professions or social situations,” he says. “We have a research tool that asks people to rate their sweating on a scale of 0-10 over a 24-hour period, and it’s been very helpful in giving us a significant amount of data on this subject,” he adds.
Luckily, people who have hyperhidrosis do have options that can make living with the condition more manageable. There’s a well-spring of medications on the market — both prescription and over-the-counter — that can help curb the symptoms, including creams, medicated antiperspirants, nerve-blocking drugs, and even botox. Even if you are not diagnosed with hyperhidrosis, Weschler says it is crucial to practice managing stress, as high levels of it can lead to increased sweating and even more anxiety.
The bottom line? If you or someone you know is struggling with sweating, then definitely visit a board-certified dermatologist to determine a diagnosis and treatment plan that will suit you. And remember: You’re far from alone in this.