Except for women during the menopausal transition, sweat doesn’t typically increase with age. In fact, researchers have found that sweating actually decreases during the aging process. This is because the eccrine (sweat) glands shrink and become less sensitive, reducing perspiration production.
So what about if, despite this, you still find yourself sweating excessively? Perhaps you’re dealing with a condition called hyperhidrosis.
Breaking a sweat
Excessive sweating is a medical condition called hyperhidrosis. According to the International Hyperhidrosis Society, approximately 15 million Americans are dealing with excessive sweating every day.
Though perspiration is a normal bodily process (it prevents the body from overheating), people with hyperhidrosis sweat much more than what is required to maintain a healthy body temperature. More precisely, people with hyperhidrosis sweat about four times more than what is needed for cooling the body.
This kind of excess sweating can happen in the underarms, feet, palms, back or head. There’s no exact cause of hyperhidrosis, however, it can be genetic and it typically starts early in life during adolescence. Less than 5% of cases begin in adulthood, according to Everyday Health.
Primary and secondary hyperhidrosis
Hyperhidrosis that’s genetic and begins early in life versus excessive sweating that begins in adulthood are actually two forms of the condition: primary and secondary hyperhidrosis. Primary hyperhidrosis usually begins in childhood or adolescence, affecting specific parts of the body only. Conversely, secondary hyperhidrosis begins later and is either caused by another medical condition, or is a side effect of a medication.
Also, secondary hyperhidrosis is known to affect the entire body and often presents itself during sleep. A good example of this: Hyperhidrosis caused by another medical condition appearing as night sweats during menopause.
Other conditions that can cause secondary hyperhidrosis are diabetes, thyroid problems, some types of cancer, heart attack and gout. Medications that might trigger secondary hyperhidrosis include high blood pressure pills and medications prescribed for neurological diseases like epilepsy.
Impact on quality of life
Both primary and secondary hyperhidrosis can seriously impact an individual’s quality of life and well-being. Excessive sweating isn’t just embarrassing — for some, it even becomes a detriment to the pursuit of work and educational goals.
It’s likely that you’ll know if your perspiration is out-of-the-norm, but if you’re not sure, you can use an online sweat assessment tool to find out exactly where you stand. Once you figure out if your sweat is “normal” or not, you don’t have to suffer in silence.
Though it may not be possible to prevent hyperhidrosis, there are steps that can be taken to minimize it.
Addressing excessive sweating
It’s important to get to the bottom of your hyperhidrosis so that it doesn’t eventually lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke (both of which can be life-threatening conditions). First, be sure to discuss your concerns with your doctor.
If an underlying medical condition is causing your hypohidrosis, treatment will be aimed at correcting that root cause. If medications are causing your hypohidrosis, you may talk to your doctor about switching medications or reducing your dosage, if possible.
However, if no explanation is uncovered, topical agents such as 20% aluminum chloride and nervous system-targeted oral medications might be discussed. However, according to Everyday Health, these medications may have detrimental side effects for older adults.
Another useful course of action would be making an appointment with a dermatologist — this would result in receiving personalized treatment for your specific symptoms.
Note: You should call 911 or visit an emergency room if you suspect you’re having a heat stroke.