The disturbing drip

Excessive sweating isn’t a mere inconvenience, but a medical condition that can be treated


Some people sweat profusely even when it’s not hot. And no, it’s not because they’re nervous. Abnormal and excessive sweating is a condition known as hyperhidrosis and it can affect armpits, hands or feet.

What causes hyperhidrosis?

The cause is difficult to trace and sometimes it’s due to another medical condition. Some possible causes include:

  • Drugs and drug poisoning
  • Infections
  • Diabetes or hyperthyroidism
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Cancer
  • Menopause
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Injury to the spinal cord

Hyperhidrosis is more common among those who have an anxious temperament or are suffering from depression or severe stress.

Signs and symptoms

Hyperhidrosis is hard to conceal since the sweat is almost dripping from the palms and soles. Often, the wetness makes the grip so slippery, that even everyday tasks such as writing, typing, or using the phone become tedious.

The sweat is especially bad for the feet as the water stays in the closed footwear. This invites bacterial or fungal infections that lead to itchy and foul-smelling feet.

How is it diagnosed?

Diagnosis constitutes detecting the cause of hyperhidrosis since that is what paves the way for treatment. Pinpointing the cause becomes easier for the doctor if the patient provides a detailed history about the onset and progress of his symptoms.

It is even better if he maintains a sweat diary, noting down the areas where he sweats the most and the time when the symptoms worsen.

A doctor may order the following:

Starch-iodine test: An iodine solution is applied to the sweaty area and left to dry. After it dries, starch is sprinkled that makes parts that are prone to excessive sweating, turn dark blue.

Paper test: Special absorbent paper is placed on the affected area. This paper is weighed later to check the increase in weight of the paper, indicating the amount of sweat absorbed.

Depending on other symptoms and suspected underlying condition, your doctor may advise you some specific tests such as a thyroid function tests if hyperthyroidism is suspected.

Complications of hyperhidrosis

Excessive sweating, specially on the palms, soles and under arms, may predispose a person to contact dermatitis, pompholyx [eczema with blisters], fungal infections and bacterial infections like pitted keratolysis [crater like pits on hands and feet].

Apart from this, hyperhidrosis may cause severe psychological disturbance, stress, anxiety and depression. Some patients feel embarrassed to socialise and hence restrict social interaction.

What brings relief?

Antiperspirants: Products containing 10 – 20 per cent aluminium chloride or products with 2 per cent formaldehyde, 10 per cent glutaraldehyde or 10 per cent tannic acid help. Avoid using aluminium zirconium based products.

Also, refrain from excess use of antiperspirants as it irritates the skin and can even damage clothes.

Medicines: This includes medications specifically indicated for hyperhidrosis or those meant to reduce anxiety.

Iontophoresis: In this procedure, the affected person’s hands or feet are placed in water and a mild current is passed through the water. The intensity is then increased slowly till the patient feels a mild tingling sensation. A typical session lasts for 10 – 20 minutes and a person may require many sessions.

Botox: This involves injecting small doses of Botox into the affected area to block the nerves that stimulate sweating. However, the effects last only six months. Side-effects include pain on the site of injection and flu-like symptoms.

Sympathectomy: This treatment is suggested as a last resort for severe cases that are resistant to other forms of treatment. It involves removing part of the nerves in the affected area.

Adjuvant treatments such as behaviour therapy and biofeedback may provide some benefit.

This was first published in the June 2012 issue of Complete Wellbeing

Magnifying lens over an exclamation markSpot an error in this article? A typo maybe? Or an incorrect source? Let us know!

Rameshwar Gutte
Dr Rameshwar Gutte is consultant dermatologist at Dr L H Hiranandani Hospital, Powai, Mumbai.


  1. This is uncommon. It means that the excessive sweating occurs in a particular focal part of the body. But, unlike primary focal hyperhidrosis, there is a known or likely cause. For example, a spinal disease or injury may cause sweating in one leg. Any focal sweating that is not symmetrical (that is, just in one hand, or one leg, etc) may suggest a secondary cause rather than primary focal hyperhidrosis which is usually symmetrical. Your doctor may suggest some tests to look for an underlying cause if one is suspected.


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