Hands up if you’ve ever been personally victimised by your sweat?
Keep your hand raised if that has happened to you 365 days a year for the last 15 years.
Welcome to my life, living with hyperhidrosis.
For those who aren’t familiar with the term, it’s a medical condition characterised by excessive and uncontrollable sweating without physical exertion or increase in body temperature.
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If you’re confused and sitting there thinking 'but isn’t sweating crucial to keep us cool?' then yes, you’re right. Our sweat glands play an important function to regulate our body temperature and for many people the nervous system does just that.
But for 5 per cent of the world’s population (roughly 365 million people), their sweat glands don’t shut off... meaning that people who have hyperhidrosis sweat when there is literally no reason to sweat.
I’m talking about sweating in air-conditioned rooms, the middle of winter and even while swimming at the beach.
To put this into context, each of us have two to four million sweat glands distributed all over our body and if that switch never turns off... damn, that’s a whole lotta sweat.
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How do you know if you suffer from excessive sweating?
If you’re unsure whether this affects you, here are the two types of hyperhidrosis that people encounter:
1. Focal hyperhidrosis.
This is where excessive sweating occurs in localised places such as palms of hands, underarms, and soles of feet because of their relatively high concentration of eccrine sweat glands. This is the most common form of hyperhidrosis.
2. Generalised hyperhidrosis.
Less common and often linked to an underlying health condition, generalised hyperhidrosis presents as excessive sweating across the entire body and typically occurs during sleep.
What causes excessive sweating?
Whilst there are no known causes as to why focal hyperhidrosis affects certain individuals, doctors have found it to be hereditary, developing during a person’s teenage years – which is exactly what happened to me.
My hyperhidrosis went into overdrive when I turned 15, on my very first date... ever. At first, I put my excessive sweating down to nerves. Pre-date jitters and all that jazz. But I knew something was off when he grabbed my hand halfway through the movie.
(Yes, we did the stereotypical cinema and ice-cream date... ahh to be 15 again) and it was wet. Not clammy or damp but *dripping* wet with sweat. I remember what happened next very clearly.
He turned to me and asked if I was hot. I mouthed 'no.' He looked perplexed. He asked me if he made me that nervous. Deep down, I knew he didn’t, but I was at a loss for words.
I realised that here we were sitting in an air-conditioned cinema in the middle of winter and there was no logical explanation as to why my hands would be soaked with sweat.
So, I did what anyone would do in that circumstance – I smiled shyly and whispered, 'A little bit... yeah.' He gave me a grin and found the whole thing endearing.
How can you treat excessive sweating?
By the time I’d reached my mid-20s, I had tried everything to stop the sweat fest. From natural remedies such as sage tablets (which did nothing but put me to sleep) to antibacterial soap, prescription antiperspirant (which just delayed the inevitable *insert eye roll here*) and even wearing loose breathable clothes. Nothing worked.
Hell, it even got so bad that I resorted to fashioning tissue papers into my very own underarm and shoe liners to prevent the sweat stains from absorbing into my clothes.
It’s safe to say, this strategy didn’t work out for me. After talking to a few people, I was off to my GP to discuss alternative options.
The first option was to have anti-wrinkle injections placed into the excessively sweaty areas.
As an FDA-approved treatment, anti-wrinkle injections work by preventing the release of a chemical that signals the sweat glands to activate. It’ll set you back about a grand, but you’re looking at an 82-87 per cent reduction in sweat.
Unfortunately, however, the injections do wear off yearly so it’s a lifelong commitment (and expense).
Now, whilst I’m all for cosmeceutical procedures and dabble in them myself, there’s just something about needles near my underarms that gives me serious anxiety.
So, I decided to opt for what was behind door number two: iontophoresis*.
What is iontophoresis and how does it work?
Wondering what iontophoresis is? Well, it’s a procedure that involves passing a weak electrical current through the affected areas of skin.
This is done through an Iontophoresis machine that allows you to place your hands or feet in trays filled with water, or by holding water-soaked sponge pads to treat the underarms.
A small current is then passed through the water for a fixed time frame and then reversed for the same amount of time.
The polarity of the current has the potential to disrupt normal nerve transmission, which also blocks the sweat gland from functioning at its full capacity.
Sounds too good to be true, right? Well, lucky for you I put it to the test and spoiler alert: it does work, BUT you need time and patience. Let me explain.
How to use an iontophoresis device.
Typically, iontophoresis sessions last 25 to 40 minutes, and the machine I purchased from Dermadry (at $652, it's an investment) recommends approaching your treatment in two phases.
The initial phase (where you use the device five times a week for the first six weeks) and then move into the maintenance phase (where you use the device once a week) to ensure your hyperhidrosis stays at bay.
At first, using the device felt... uncomfortable.
There was a slight tingling, similar to the sensation you get from pins and needles, but no real pain.
After my first two sessions I noticed that I was getting quite itchy and dry in the treated areas, which is completely normal (nothing a little cream can’t fix) and tends to disappear with more sessions.
It took two weeks of back-to-back treatments, but I did notice that everyday tasks became easier.
My clammy hands disappeared, and better yet, I was able to wear a grey tee to work without wet pools forming under my arms.
Success? 100 per cent.
However, just like your skin needs a skincare routine, people who choose this route over anti-wrinkle injections need to embed the iontophoresis treatment into their lifestyle.
I learnt this the hard way. It’s been about three months since my last ‘maintenance’ treatment and my hyperhidrosis (and frustration) levels reached an all-time high mid-move as I was attempting to put together some IKEA storage.
What would take someone a mere 15 minutes to assemble ended up taking me two days to complete... thanks to my uncontrollably sweaty hands.
So... will I be integrating this back into my life?
*NB: This may not be a suitable treatment for you if you’re: pregnant, have epilepsy, have a heart condition, have a pacemaker or other metal implants. It is best you consult your doctor if you fall into the above categories.
Feature Image: Supplied.
What do you think of this treatment? Would you try it? Share with us in the comment section below.