By Anna Salleh
Sure, working a sweat up at the gym can give a sexy shimmer to a well-sculpted muscle.
But when normal daily activities see your palm too soaked to turn a door knob and wet patches on clothes running from your armpits to your waistline, your body’s sweat response can seem like too much of a good thing.
Sweating is one of nature’s vital ways of keeping us cool, but some people’s sweat glands take an overzealous approach to the task.
Our genetics, metabolic rate, and age, can all affect how much we sweat, says Dr Rodney Sinclair, honorary professor of dermatology at the University of Melbourne
As can how hot, humid or windy it is, as well as what we’re wearing, and how much we’re exercising.
You might lose as little as 100 millilitres a day or as much as 9 litres if you are an elite athlete training in heat, Dr Sinclair says.
When too much sweat is a problem
As well as regulating our body’s temperature, sweating helps control our fluid and salt balance. And it’s a factor in keeping our skin moist.
But when your sweat glands work more like a building’s sprinkler system in full force than one of those finely-tuned spray misters that keep vegies crisp on shop shelves, you may have a problem.
It is estimated that about 3 per cent of people suffer from a condition called hyperhidrosis, where they sweat much more than they need to — having implications for their quality of life.
It can make holding a pen or glass of water tricky, drench paper and computer keyboards, put people off dating and has even been known to prevent students from raising their hands to ask questions during class.
“Some people are precluded from certain types of work because they stain machinery with their sweat,” Dr Sinclair says.
No sweat: Ways to deal with sweat
- Antiperspirants – ones containing aluminium, especially aluminium chloride hexahydrate. Action: Block pores that secrete sweat
- Prescription medicines – known as anticholinergics. Action: Block sweat production
- Dermatologist treatments – Electrical currents to drive water back into skin (iontophoresis), botox to paralyse sweat glands, surgery to cut nerves to glands.
Why do we sweat?
Sweating is caused by glands found all over the body, which have ducts that open out onto the skin. These eccrine glands are activated in response to heat and stress — which is why we get sweaty palms when we are anxious.
Interestingly, the highest density of eccrine sweat glands are found on the palms of our hands and the soles of our feet.
Body odour is actually due to special sweat glands found mainly in the armpits and groin. These apocrine glands secrete protein, which forms an odour when it is broken down by bacteria.
The cause of hyperhidrosis is poorly understood but it is believed to be caused by something going wrong with part of the body’s nervous system that is outside of our voluntary control.