The Science of Why You’re so Damn Sweaty

You're not disgusting or alone, but you might need to see a dermatologist.

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Sweating excessively costs men a lot more than a few extra shirts—it’s a matter of dignity. But rest assured: you’re not disgusting. You may, however, be suffering from a common condition known as hyperhidrosis. Although scientists aren’t sure what causes it, hyperhidrosis is characterized by excessive sweating and is usually no cause for concern. Not that this makes dripping all over your colleague’s computer feel any better.

“Hyperhidrosis is a medical condition that results in sweating more than what is required to maintain body temperature,” Adam Friedman, a dermatologist at George Washington University, told Fatherly. “It can be associated with underlying medical conditions and medications, but the most common form has no clear cause.”

Roughly five percent of Americans suffer from hyperhidrosis, or around 15 million people, research shows. It is most prevalent among 18 to 39 year olds, afflicting nearly nine percent of them. Men and women are thought to be equally affected by excessive sweating, but only half will seek treatment. Keeping with the masculine tradition of avoiding doctors until it’s too late, men are less likely than women to ask their doctors about their sweatiness.

Though there is no known cause, the most common type of hyperhidrosis (primary focal hyperhidrosis) happens when nerves trigger sweat glands, causing them to become overactive. Secondary hyperhidrosis, on the other hand, is excessive sweating due to an underlying medical condition, such as diabetes, thyroid problems, low blood sugar, certain types of cancers and nervous system disorders, infections, and even heart attacks. So it’s crucial to see a doctor for a proper diagnosis of your excessive sweatiness—not just to cut back on the laundry.

Shame and embarrassment about sweating can discourage people from seeking help for something treatable. Options include prescription creams and antiperspirants, nerve-blocking medications, and occasionally antidepressants to reduce perspiration, Friedman says. More extreme measures include botox, nerve surgery, and sweat gland removal surgery. It might be more reasonable to cut back on caffeine and spicy food before it comes to that, as both tend to induce hyperhidrosis symptoms too.

“Because each patient is different,” Friedman says. “There is no ‘cure all’ for the condition.”

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