MDs explain why you sweat like crazy—and what you can do about it.
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We all sweat—and for good reason. The body produces sweat to help regulate body temperature, and sweating can be caused by "changes in your body temperature, the outside temperature, or your emotional state," explains dermatologist Corey L. Hartman, MD, founder and medical director of Skin Wellness Dermatology in Birmingham, Ala., and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Alabama School of Medicine.

"When body temperature rises due to a warm environment or physical activity, the autonomic nervous system signals eccrine sweat glands," says New York City–based dermatologist Hadley King, MD. These glands, which are located throughout the skin, are concentrated on the palms, soles, forehead, and armpits. "When sweat is produced, it promotes heat loss through evaporation." The result: a much cooler you. A good thing, considering that if we didn't sweat, the body would be unable to cool itself, which can ultimately put you in danger of overheating, or worse, heatstroke.

Sometimes, though, sweat can be excessive—we're talking salt-water-soaked clothes or hands—and it's not always a result of external heat or exercise. Here, experts weigh in on whether a profuse amount of sweat is something you should be concerned about, what it means if you sweat too much, and what you can do to rein in your waterworks.

What Determines How Much We Sweat?

Whether you're someone who barely breaks a sweat or you drip buckets upon buckets with the slightest temperature increase, the amount you secrete is largely determined by two things: your genetics and the environment. According to Sarah Everts, a science journalist, journalism professor at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, and author of The Joy of Sweat: The Strange Science of Perspiration, genetics determines your number of sweat glands—people typically have between 2 to 5 million—as well as your sweat rate. As far as the environment, many biologists believe that in your early years (think: as a toddler), which is when your sweat glands become entirely active, "your body is learning about the environment in which you live and modulating your sweat gland activity for the environment you are born in," Everts says. "But your body can learn to adjust sweat rates as you move to hotter climates or work out in hotter and more humid spaces."

What is excessive sweating, or hyperhidrosis?

While sweating is an essential bodily function, determining a normal amount is really a you thing. People have been known to sweat as little as a single liter or as much as several liters per day, depending on their activity. When you're dripping copious amounts of sweat, though, and it's not tied to heat or exercise, this phenomenon, called hyperhidrosis, can certainly be an issue.

"Hyperhidrosis, or excessive sweating, is a medical condition whereby the sweat glands are triggered by the nerves to produce too much sweat," Dr. Hartman explains. There are two types: primary focal hyperhidrosis and secondary generalized hyperhidrosis.

Primary focal hyperhidrosis, which Dr. Hartman says occurs typically in the armpits, hands, and feet, affects more than 15 million people in the U.S., and can understandably "be embarrassing and interfere with normal daily activities when severe," making even the simplest tasks, like holding a pen, difficult. Excessive sweating may also be more psychologically damaging than physically damaging, adds Dr. Hartman.

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Whether it is or not, it can most certainly affect every aspect of your life. A study in the journal Health and Quality of Life Outcomes revealed that hyperhidrosis can impact your psychological well-being, your social life, and your professional and/or school life. What's more, research in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found a link between anxiety and depression and hyperhidrosis, with both mental health conditions being more prevalent in folks with this excessive sweating condition than those without it. 

Secondary generalized hyperhidrosis, on the other hand, can be attributed to more serious health conditions such as diabetes, heart failure, or an overactive thyroid. Excessive sweating can also be a side effect of certain medications (think meds for antidepressants, opioids, migraines, Parkinson's disease, and breast cancer to name a few).

What can you do about excessive sweating?

While hyperhidrosis, which can cause folks to sweat up to five times more than necessary or normal, can't be cured, there are a myriad of ways—topicals, oral drugs, injections—to help you manage effusive perspiration. For example, swapping your deodorant for antiperspirant. Antiperspirants (go for over-the-counter clinical strength or prescription strength options) contain ingredients such as aluminum, which blocks sweat glands and subsequently reduces sweat. Botox—administered by a professional—is also an option. According to the International Hyperhidrosis Society, a shot of Botox in the underarm area, a course of treatment approved by the FDA for folks 18 and over, can put the kibosh on excessive sweating by up to 87 percent, with effects lasting anywhere between four and 12 months.

If you find yourself sweating a lot consistently on a daily basis, though, and "if sweating is interfering with your quality of life, then it's reasonable to discuss treatment options for hyperhidrosis with your doctor," Dr. King advises. A dermatologist who has experience treating this sort of issue is a great place to start. They can help rule out any major medical issues—or refer you to a specialist if it's something more serious—as well as help you find some relief through the right course of treatment for you.

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